Small businesses are a substantial part of New York City, making up 98 percent of the economic fabric as of 2020. However, with limited resources and employees, small businesses are often targets for theft. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a string of break-ins in and around Bushwick, particularly in the food and service industry, and many business owners are frustrated with the police response.
According to Josefina Hernández, who owns Cafe Moca alongside her daughter and stepson, two officers inspected the scene at Cafe Moca after the filing of a police report. All evidence, including footage and images of the break-in, were given to the officers, but after 10 days, there has been no follow-up.
“If we had any evidence in the cafe, we don’t have that anymore because we’re cleaning. The cafe can’t be closed forever,” said Hernández, who shared that the officers told her that the cafe could be reopened the same day without further investigation.
The footage recorded via the security cameras, according to Hernández, showed two police cars patrolling the area at around 10 p.m., but break-ins often occur in the later hours of the night into the early morning.
“I don’t think it’s understood how hard people have to work to have something in this neighborhood,” said Hernández. “That’s your livelihood in a few minutes, a matter of thousands of dollars in the span of a few minutes. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to cover it, but not all people have the resources to recover what they’ve lost. A lot of small businesses cannot.”
“This is something real,” added Hernández. “The only way we can be heard is when we are united, when we fight together, when we do things together as a community.”
Casa Ora is a family-owned Venezuelan restaurant and cocktail bar located at 148 Meserole St. In written commentary to Bushwick Daily, co-owner Rachel Díaz-Pirard stated that the restaurant experienced three break-ins in the span of two weeks.
First, only food was stolen, then food and liquor, until finally, the storefront windows were shattered and the cash register was stolen. According to Díaz-Pirard, the Casa Ora team reached out to the community for support and had a metal gate installed. A police report was filed for all instances. Although there was a police presence for a few days following the incidents, there were no follow-ups.
The third of the break-ins received a lot of media coverage when Casa Ora posted a video of the incident on social media, but according to Díaz-Pirard, it may have had more to do with the fact that the break-ins occurred during Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, 2021) than anything else.
“I do believe that in some ways, it was ‘fashionable timing’ being Hispanic Heritage Month, to feature a Michelin-rated, Hispanic immigrant-owned small business on many major news outlets. If this were to happen at a different time, I don’t think we would have gotten so much attention,” she commented. “I see a lot of news about new restaurant openings, but not the same attention to restaurants still facing permanent closures. A lot on Covid, but less on violence.”
“Based on our experiences, the first few break-ins, food was being stolen. So we should really be asking ourselves WHY these crimes are occurring. Between major inflation and skyrocketing food prices, no more government pandemic assistance and unemployment extended benefits ending, I can imagine restaurants have become an easy target for those with food insecurities. We get little media coverage, little police assistance, and no financial compensation or protections for lost and damaged property,” continued Díaz-Pirard.
Steve Sciacca, co-owner of French restaurant Mominette at 221 Knickerbocker Ave., shared that the bistro has experienced four break-ins in the nine years it has been open in written commentary for Bushwick Daily. Of those, only the first incident was reported. The most recent break-in occurred during the last week of December 2021 at the basement where there was “nothing for [the perpetrators].”
According to Sciacca, the time it takes the crime scene investigators to arrive is more costly than if the establishment were to reopen as best they could, even if it’s with handwritten receipts. The cost to shut down any given day, and especially during the weekends, can be thousands of dollars.
Sciacca stated that it seems policing hasn’t been as aggressive in the past two years as it was before the onset of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Lazy Suzy Cafe & Shop, located at 703 Hart St., was broken into in January of 2021. One of the front doors was shattered, the cash register was broken into, and approximately $30 cash was stolen. Insurance didn’t cover the damage. However, co-owner Andy Chu shared with Bushwick Daily in a written statement that the team was grateful that the incident occurred overnight and no customers or staff were hurt.
Chu decided to file a police report and the crime scene detective confirmed that a similar incident happened in the neighborhood where a rock was used to smash through another cafe’s glass door.
“I think most small businesses are run by people who have a ton of things to do and what’s done is done, so you can only file the police report and move on from it,” wrote Chu.
Celeste León, District Manager of Brooklyn’s Community Board 4, suggests that the best thing for business and property owners to do is get to know their resources, local officials and elected leaders.
The Neighborhood Coordination Officers (NCO) program provides a liaison between the police and the community. The idea is that two officers familiarize themselves with the residents and common problems in the area, attend Build a Block meetings with the public to address these problems, and respond swiftly to crime. You can find your local Build a Block meetings and neighborhood coordination officers using this interactive map. Even though the 83rd Precinct patrols Bushwick, each sector has two different officers, so be sure to write the correct home or establishment address.
León has agreed to bring up the issue of crimes against small business in the next Build a Block meeting in her sector, but encourages residents to reach out as well. Additionally, residents can register to attend Community Board 4 meetings (via Zoom) and sign up for their email list to keep themselves updated.
“We know that it’s a very busy and strange time with Covid and we want to make it as easy as possible for businesses to go and bridge that,” said León.
Bushwick Daily reached out to the 83rd Precinct but has not received a response.
The featured image is of the break-in at Casa Ora as caught per the surveillance camera. Image provided by Rachel Díaz-Pirard.
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