Bolton Hill cafe robbed at gunpoint 5 times in 3.5 months

Trying to curb crime by going cashless
Posted at 10:14 PM, Jan 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-27 17:29:28-05

At Park Cafe & Coffee Bar there's a focus on good food, and a welcoming environment.  Next week is the Bolton Hill shop's two year anniversary.

"From the day we opened our doors, we were lovingly embraced by this community," said owner David Hart.

It's one of the reasons Hart felt so violated when the cafe suddenly became a target for criminals.         

It started back in October, and over the last 3.5 months the business has been robbed at gunpoint five times.  Most recently last Friday

"The first robbery there were 30 people in the cafe, probably five people standing in line to order when this happened," Hart said.

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It was a terrifying ordeal that was caught on surveillance video. Hart says every time the shop's been hit, it's the same thing, a solo crook walks in wearing a mask, demanding money. He's in and out in 20 seconds. One time even walked away with the entire cash register drawer in his hands.

"It's frustrating, it's taxing, it's emotionally taxing," said Hart.

After every hold-up Hart has upped security. More cameras were installed, business hours were shortened, and a lock was added to the front door so patrons need to be buzzed in.          

"After the fifth robbery, going to what I considered my last option, which was going cashless," Hart said.

That's right, no cash is taken to pay for anything. The plastic-only rule went into effect this weekend.        

Hart says it was a risky move, but didn't think he had any other options to stop the robberies. Some customers are not onboard with the change, but so far it has not taken a toll on sales.

"The support from the community, the feedback from everyone has been overwhelmingly positive," said Hart.

However, it's not just the cafe, there's been an increase in crime in the entire neighborhood. In fact, the nearby Park Avenue Pharmacy has already been robbed two times this month. The first was at the beginning of January, then the business was hit again this Monday just before noon.

Workers have been anxious, saying the bandit was calm during the hold-ups, getting away with about $5,000.

Thursday afternoon, Baltimore Police announced an arrest. Detectives said 36-year-old Joseph Dinkins was picked up for the latest robbery. So far, Dinkins has been charged with one count of armed robbery, but other charges could be pending. Investigators said the Baltimore man may be responsible for other crimes, including the string of thefts in the neighborhood.

"I think the police are frustrated, I think the community is frustrated,” said Hart. “I don't know what to attribute it to, there's obviously been an increase in opportunistic crime in Bolton Hill."

With no cash to attract the criminals, Park Cafe & Coffee Bar hopes to go back to just attracting customers.        

Because of the recent crime, a town hall meeting for the area is being held next Wednesday night. The focus will be on prevention and making Bolton Hill safer.  The event runs from 6 to 8 p.m. on MICA's campus.

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