For Woods Halley, operating his corner convenience store the last few months in southeast Minneapolis has been a harrowing experience.
His 8th Street Market, at 630 SE. 8th St., was robbed six times at gunpoint in October and November. Then in December, a concrete block was thrown through the window on the front door. None of his employees were injured, but five of them quit after the crimes.
"They were terribly upset and quite understandably," said Halley, a physics professor at the University of Minnesota. "It was very painful, losing all of these people, some of whom had worked here for years."
Along with homicides and carjackings, business robberies are on the rise across Minneapolis. At least 132 were reported in 2021, compared with 122 in 2020 and 100 in pre-pandemic 2019, according to police data.
The story is different in St. Paul, where recent robbery numbers have remained relatively unchanged. But in Minneapolis, the number of businesses robbed in October and November was double the number for the same period in 2020.
While robberies are up in Minneapolis, corresponding arrests are significantly down. There were 330 robbery arrests in 2020 but 165 in 2021, a 50% decline.
A Minneapolis Police Department spokesman declined to comment on why robberies are up. Nor would department officials say how many robberies have been solved.
Halley said police told him they had made arrests in at least two of the robberies. In one case, police used fingerprints to track down a suspect. He said police indicated to him that some of the robbers were juveniles and some were adults.
'I can't even sell milk'
Jimmy's Food, at 1121 12th Av. N. in Minneapolis' Near North neighborhood, was robbed on Nov. 23 and again on Nov. 30, and broken into Dec. 6. In the first hold-up, the robbers had two guns; the second time, they punched a clerk in the face. The clerk in each case later quit, said owner Majed Abusara. He was unaware of anyone having been arrested.
The store used to be open until 8 p.m. but now Abusara closes at 5 p.m., and sales have suffered as a result. He now tries to assign two or three clerks to the store during business hours.
"I'm upset and angry as well," he said. "I carry my gun all the time. It might deter some people from doing anything." He said he has considered closing the store for good but worries about the effect on the surrounding community.
"We are the only store in the neighborhood, and the neighborhood needs us," Abusara said. "It is about servicing the community."
Bryn Mawr Market, 412 Cedar Lake Road S., has seen five robberies and break-ins in recent months, including an armed holdup by four youths, ages 14 to 17, on Dec. 29. The assailants put a gun to the head of the 20-year-old clerk, who panicked as she struggled to open the till. They pistol whipped and shot her in the foot and abdomen before fleeing. She survived.
Police arrested the alleged shooter, a 15-year-old boy, and recovered the carjacked vehicle the group used. The Hennepin County Attorney's Office moved to certify the two oldest suspects as adults.
Doug Anderson, who co-owns the store with his brother, has since installed a doorbell and begun locking the main entrance between customers. One employee occasionally brings her pit bull to work for added protection.
"We always thought we were lucky — 'til now," said Anderson, who said he's dedicated his life to serving the Bryn Mawr community. "It's been rough. We're tired."
A customer launched a GoFundMe campaign on behalf of the store and the wounded clerk, raising nearly $30,000. Other patrons slipped personal checks to the Andersons. But foot traffic is down, and what the family really needs is more customers.
"The neighborhood feels very anxious. I can't even sell milk," said Anderson, who was forced to donate eight cases to a local food bank. "I've got six more cases in the cooler right now."
Convenience stores have not been the only targets. A North Side McDonald's, at 4435 Lyndale Av. N., has been robbed twice in the last several months. Manager Justin Lang said that the first time, the robber went to the drive-through window, pointed a gun and demanded money. "They got nothing," said Lang. "My employee ran away." In the second robbery, an employee handed over $180 and ran.
Lang said the robberies led to four or five employees quitting. "I completely understand," he said. "You don't feel safe in the workplace."
Back at the 8th Street Market, the robberies have put Halley on edge. He has posted a notice saying he now takes only credit or debit cards, or food stamp cards — no cash. The sign may have deterred robbers, he said, but it has also cut sales. Some customers only use cash, and Halley said business is down by about a third.
Clerks don't have the combination to the safe, Halley said, so several times the robbers tried to take the safe only to find it too heavy to move. They would also pilfer cigars from the counter.
Halley bought the store in 2005 as a work outlet for his sons. While he was also hoping to make some money, he said, he saw the store as a community anchor. Now he is weighing selling it.
"If we can't operate in a way that protects us from repeated robberies and is financially sustainable, I'm not willing to continue," he said.
Staff writer Liz Sawyer contributed to this story.