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The One Item Store Owners Could Do Without: Crime

October 12, 1987|KEITH BRADSHER

Running a 24-hour convenience store is more than just stocking shelves, watching for shoplifters and accepting cash from customers. It's also dangerous. Crime has nearly ruined A C Wallace's Arco station and am/pm convenience store in South Los Angeles, for example.

The first armed robbery took place 3 1/2 years ago; robbers made off with about $200. Six months later, another armed robber emptied a cash register of a similar sum, but the night clerk, a Vietnam veteran, had a handgun.

He followed the robber outside, watched him tuck his gun into his pants, then ordered him to freeze. When the robber reached for his gun, the clerk shot him once in the side and held him until the police arrived, Wallace said.

Twice within the last year, thugs have robbed family members as they deposited weekend receipts at a bank, Wallace said. On one such occasion, four men beat up his wife. "It almost wiped me out. My little daughter had a little cash money, and that's the only thing that kept me going."

Convenience stores are vulnerable to crime because they are open late at night and because their size makes them more difficult to protect than a cashier's cubicle at an all-night, self-service gas station. Last year, the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports division recorded 27,091 convenience store robberies, up 4.5% from 1985 and up 15.9% from 1984. Robberies of the country's more numerous service stations came to 15,839, up 2.5% from 1985.

Making even a cubicle bullet-resistant costs about $20,000, and includes not only special glass but also special steel for the walls, said William D. Steelman, Chevron's Southwest division sales and marketing manager. Hardening the walls of a large convenience store would be prohibitively expensive, he said.

Chevron has taken two approaches as a result. At first, convenience store doors were locked at night and cashiers passed products out through a sliding tray similar to those used at drive-in bank windows. More recently, the company has put bullet-resistant barriers between cashiers and customers at some locations, discouraging midnight armed robberies if not midnight shoplifting. Chevron has a security review in progress right now, Steelman said.

Arco has generally avoided bullet-proofing its stores and cashier booths, said Joseph J. Tebo, national manager of sales development. The company has focused on providing better lighting of the entire service station, installing safes that cashiers cannot open and offering rewards of up to $25,000 for information leading to the arrest of robbers, he said.

The company has also banned pay telephones, which give criminals a place to loiter and prepare. Removing phones also reduces vehicle congestion in a service station and boosts gasoline sales, Tebo said.

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