Latino businesses in North Philly look to the city, each other for answers after string of robberies
A WhatsApp chat, more security installments and an upcoming business leader meeting are just some of the solutions needed for a community in recovery.
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Over the last three weeks, more than a dozen armed robberies have taken place in the Feltonville, Hunting Park and Fairhill sections of North Philadelphia, and the majority of the businesses targeted were Latino-owned.
On Thursday, Nov. 18, 23-year-old Gabby Cruz, owner of the advertising company, Gabby Signs, along with her dad and a few other employees, were getting ready to close up the shop, when three armed men charged in and stole some money.
Gabby Signs, which makes signs for businesses as well as food trucks, is located on American Street between Cambria and Somerset, near Congreso de Latinos Unidos, and Pan American Academy Charter School.
Until the robbery occurred, Cruz and her employees had never experienced anything that made them feel unsafe, and never had any security system installments.
But now, Cruz told AL DÍA, the small business has invested in multiple security measures including cameras, a doorbell and an ADP security system.
Cruz said that the assailants were not wearing any gloves, and that many fingerprints were found in the shop, but they haven’t heard back from the police about DNA identification.
Cruz doesn’t want to have to leave and plant the business somewhere else.
“We’re the first Hispanic food truck company to come to the area. We want to stay here. I have a house here. We don’t want to have to leave it, but we just don’t feel safe,” Cruz said.
She would like to see more action taken by city leaders and the police department.
“Think about it like this, the economy is moved by small businesses. And if you don’t have a concern about them, what happens when we all head out because we don’t feel safe here?” Cruz said.
At around 7:15 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 2, Daniela Garcia, store manager of the Colombian bakery and coffee shop, Café Tinto, was conducting business as usual. Suddenly, two armed men wearing ski masks on their faces came in and ordered everyone to the floor
There were about 10 customers in the store at the time and they all dropped to the floor along with the women behind the counter. Garcia gave them the money in the register and they left.
“It was a very quick thing. It was a two-minute thing that just scared the hell out of everyone,” said Giselle Poveda, owner of Café Tinto.
After the robbery on Thursday, Poveda felt major shifts in the way she viewed everything at the store. She couldn’t get over the shock of what happened, and having been in business at the same location for over 10 years, something like the robbery never seemed like a possibility.
But Poveda also began realizing they were conducting business in ways that were leaving them vulnerable to attacks like it, and she plans to make some changes. However, before she could do that, the same robber came two days later and robbed the store again.
Poveda also found out that neighboring Latino-owned businesses were also being robbed, so she started thinking about how to help her community.
“So I posted a video immediately. I need to protect my community because at the end of the day, my community are my customers. So what I did is I gathered a few business owners I do know and said, ‘hey we need to come together, we need to be communicative,’” Poveda said.
These business owners, some of whom haven’t met in person yet, are talking and sharing video content of the crimes in a WhatsApp chat, thanks to Poveda’s organizing efforts.
Café Tinto will also be undergoing some indoor renovations to ensure more security, but Poveda does worry about the store losing its vibe.
“We love sharing our culture, our food and coffee, and our service. And so the thought of me being behind glass makes me feel like we’re going to lose our charm,” Povado said.
On the city side, Councilmember David Oh met with affected business owners this week, and has coordinated a virtual meeting between small business owners and Joel Dales, Deputy Commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, which will take place on Tuesday, Dec. 14.