WEST TOWN — Some business owners in Wicker Park, West Town and the surrounding area are upgrading their security after numerous burglaries at bars, restaurants and corner stores this spring, at least some of which are connected, police said.
At least four bars were broken into early April 25: Cobra Lounge on the Near West Side, the Irish Nobleman in West Town, Tuman’s Tap and Grill in Ukrainian Village and Hurley Tap in Bucktown.
Six other break-ins and burglaries occurred March 17-April 29, according to a police alert. Four of those targeted Mott St., 1401 N. Ashland Ave., between March 17 and April 15, police said.
In Humboldt Park, Western Food & Grocery, 1358 N. Western Ave., and Zoku Sushi, 1616 N. Kedzie Ave., were burglarized early April 16 and April 29, police said.
In all the break-ins, someone smashed the front or side windows with a rock, brick or crowbar to get inside, then stole liquor and money from the register or safe, police said. Police said the burglar has been seen getting into a waiting red Nissan Murano.
Mott St. co-owner Vicki Kim said the burglars stole money in two incidents and caused considerable damage. Mott St. is no longer accepting cash as a precaution, and Kim said managers have warned employees to be vigilant as they leave work.
“We’ve gone cashless, so we don’t have any more cash in house, literally for crime prevention and also safety of our employees,” Kim said. “The last two times, they weren’t able to get anything. Although there were computers, laptops, iPads, things out … they were just targeting cash.”
On Monday, police issued another alert warning about 13 other burglaries in the West Town area they believe are connected. In those, someone broke a window with a rock or brick to get inside and used a crowbar to open registers and safes, police said.
Police did not give descriptions of burglars beyond saying they were men wearing black clothes, masks and gloves.
Several West Town and Bucktown businesses not included in Monday’s community alert have also reported recent break-ins.
A Hurley Tap managing partner named Anthony, who asked to only use his first name, said the person who broke into his bar last week stole about $1,500 and some iPads. But the real cost will be the damages to the door, cash register and the office, which could run $8,000-$9,000, he said.
“They broke the computer. They broke the audiovisual towers. They broke the printer down there. It was a mess,” he said. “That’s where it gets me the most, is the expense afterward, all that money that has to be put up to fix everything back up. It’s stuff that insurance won’t take care of.”
In West Town, corner store Candy’s Grocery, 1366 W. Ohio St., and restaurant Fry the Coop, 1529 W. Chicago Ave., were broken into about 5 a.m. April 14, owners said.
“They grabbed our register and smashed it on the floor. And then they stole random things,” Candy’s Grocery owner Adriana Alcala-Markese said.
Alcala-Markese said she’s concerned her corner grocery could be targeted again. She’s considering getting a dog for the store to give her some peace of mind, even when she’s there during the day.
“I think maybe a dog would deter someone more than an alarm system or them fearing the police are going to be here. You would have to be here within seconds to catch them,” she said.
In some cases, business owners said nothing was stolen in the break-ins. Instead, the people go into backrooms or basements and then leave, business owners said.
Fry the Coop was broken into about 15 minutes after Candy’s was burglarized, owner Joe Fontana said.
A person smashed a brick through a front window and then used a crow bar to clear the glass to get in, he said. The person didn’t take anything, but they walked through the restaurant and up a back staircase to the second floor, where they broke into an apartment, according to video footage Fontana reviewed.
The break-in woke up one of the tenants, and the intruder ran away, Fontana said.
“He beelines it, runs out the window and then he runs down the stairs and you can see him jump the fence. And then he takes off,” Fontana said. “Didn’t take one thing, literally. … He was in and out in four minutes.”
Fontana has had the glass boarded up and paid an artist to paint over it. He’s expecting to pay about $3,500 in damages.
“It feels disheartening, because to me it seems like you can break into places and get away with it and you’re never gonna get caught,” Fontana said.
In the first community alert issued Sunday, police recommended businesses invest in ArmorPlast, a product manufactured by Riot Glass LLC that can be installed over glass to protect against break-ins.
Anthony said he’s looking into investing in similar security shutters for Hurley Tap, although he predicts it could cost the business upwards of $10,000.
Irish Nobleman owners Candace and Declan Morgan said they’ve also been getting quotes about security upgrades like ArmorPlast, but it’s an expense they and many other small business owners likely cannot afford.
“From my experience, I don’t think that that’s going to be a financially viable option for probably 95 percent of the smaller restaurants that are getting hit with this and being targeted,” Candace Morgan said.
The Morgans are worried their West Town bar, which is on a quiet residential corner, could get hit again. The person who broke in last week searched back rooms and the basement but ultimately did not take anything from the business.
For now, Declan Morgan said the couple are considering leaving their dogs — a German shepherd and Dobermann — in the bar overnight to scare away any intruders.
At Mott St., Kim said owners are looking into adding security windows to the building. They’re also hoping police can add an extra patrol on their block in the early morning hours when the four break-ins have happened.
Anthony, the Hurley Tap partner, said he’s angry but isn’t going to let the break-in “beat us.”
“We’re going to still continue to be part of the community support them as much as we possibly can,” he said.
Fontana felt similarly.
“We’re just trying to spread happiness through making chicken sandwiches,” he said. “We’re not going to let these bad seeds stop us from continuing to do what we do.”
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