Rising Number of Robberies Raises Concerns in Atlantic City

Just before dark Monday afternoon, 17-year-old Efaj Ahmed sat on the stool behind the counter of his father's convenience store, waiting to sell the next box of cereal or cigarettes.

A man in a mask walked in, put a gun on the counter and demanded cash from the Atlantic City High School student.

But this time, unlike so many other times at convenience stores in the city this year, the worker fought back, grabbed the gun off the counter and aimed it at the suspect.

The suspect slid off the mask, said he was "just playing around'' and ran from the A.C. Convenience Store on the 4000 block of Ventnor Avenue near Dover Avenue, Ahmed said.

But Ahmed, who was on his first day of winter break from school, said he knows the man wasn't playing around, and this was no game.

Robberies and attempted robberies like this are on the rise in the city, sometimes scaring workers out of jobs in a town where jobs are scarce, store owners said. They want police to do more. They want this to stop.

"All of the robberies are actively being investigated by detectives. We are doing our best to solve these crimes,'' Sgt. Kevin Fair told The Press of Atlantic City .

But merchants say the damage is done.

"Nobody wants to work anymore,'' said Leo Rehani, owner of Joe Food Market on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, who said his store was robbed at gunpoint last week. It was robbed in October, too, he said.

"We have to stop this thing,'' he said.

According to reports obtained by The Press of Atlantic City, there were 24 reported attempted robberies or armed robberies at convenience stores from Sept. 30 to Nov. 30, plus two robberies of taxi drivers, all over the city.

The Atlantic City Police Department said in a news release last week that there has been an increase in robberies of convenience stores and cabdrivers in the city, and detectives have been thoroughly investigating each incident.

Criminal charges were filed against eight different men-- ranging in age from 17 to 34-- in 15 robberies as of Dec. 22.

But store owners and employees throughout the city are worried. Rehani said he likes the neighborhood and the location of his store, which sits at MLK Boulevard and Adriatic Avenue and faces Stanley Holmes Village out the side window. He doesn't want to leave, he said while waving to passers-by.

Regular customers and passers-by frequent his rounded storefront, to stop in to shop or to chat.

Rehani said he's concerned about the safety of children walking around outside or near the store if a suspect enters with a weapon. Also, his employees are getting scared and no longer want to work, he said.

George Batmani, an Atlantic City resident and owner of George's Grill and Chill at South Carolina and Adriatic avenues, said his store was robbed the day before Thanksgiving, when three people entered with knives, put them near the necks of his employees and took money from the register.

"It's so hard right now,'' Batmani said, looking across to an empty lot.

One customer hanging out near the entrance of the store yelled out that he's never heard about this many robberies in the past.

Some of Batmani's employees quit after the robbery, he said. He needs a staff of six to properly run the store, but he has only three working.

Rehani and Batmani said they want to see a larger police presence on the blocks around the stores that have been robbed. Rehani said he's been at this store location for the past four years and hadn't had a problem any other year.

Batmani said he has seen people walking around in front of his store with masks on, ready to enter.

The owners said they're upset about not seeing more police in the area at night and that police are not letting people know when robberies happen. Last week, a group of convenience store owners met with members of the Police Department to voice their concerns. More awareness could help identify a suspect, Rehani said.

But more robberies have been solved than remain unsolved, police said. Fair said officers are out patrolling the city, covering all of the city and not one specific area. The department did not have any additional comment as of Tuesday.

Joe Kelly, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber, said he's aware of the problem and that there is a "special effort being put on by police to address the increase.''

Down Ventnor Avenue and across the street from Ahmed's family's store, BJ's Dollar Express Plus was also robbed at gunpoint Saturday, said the owner, Abu Bhuiyan.

Police said in a release Tuesday afternoon they were seeking a Hispanic man in the attempted robbery Monday of the A.C. Convenience Store. The suspect may go by the name of Ed or Eddie. Police also said the gun appeared to be a BB gun.

Ahmed said the would-be robber didn't point the gun at him. He acted quickly when the man put the gun on the counter.

"I did have a chance, I was calm and stuff. You've got to be calm in situations like this,'' Ahmed said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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