Thursday February 23, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- It was the day after her father's Elm Street store was robbed at gunpoint and Martha Bruso was nervous.

"I'm working tonight," said the cashier at Palmer's Variety. "Am I a little worried? Yes."

Around Elm Street, where three shops have been held up in the past two weeks alone, the sentiment was widespread on Wednesday.

Anxious cashiers, cooks and attendants say they've found themselves wondering if they'll be targeted next and business owners say they don't know what steps they can take to make their employees safer.

"You can't do much," said Lawrence Palmer, the owner of Palmer's Variety.

Elm Street has long had a reputation as a tranquil corner of the city. In the past five months, however, neighborhood businesses have been targeted in five armed robberies and one attempted armed robbery.

In the three latest heists -- at Getty, Angelina's sub shop and Palmer's Variety -- the assailants all matched a similar description: a short, masked woman brandishing
a gun.

As of Wednesday night, police said they had not made any arrests in connection to the cases.

Residents, meanwhile, have taken note of the apparent spree. They say this is the first time their street has been plagued by such a severe crime wave.

"This has never happened," said John DeNiro, who since 1988 has worked as a delivery driver at the Elm Street Domino's, which itself has been robbed twice in recent months.

"This has always been like, pristine Pittsfield. Now we've got people with guns saying, ‘give me your money,' " DeNiro said.

Residents and employees are split on what the city should do to curb crime.

DeNiro said he thinks police need to beef up their presence in the neighborhood. "We need some action," he said.

But others say they don't think the solution is so simple.

The employees of Angelina's who were on duty when the sub shop was robbed said they see police patrols on Elm Street frequently. They both said, short of staffing the business with a police officer, they don't think there is anything city officials or their employers can do to make them feel safer.

The two said that, while they haven't changed their work routine since they were robbed on Saturday, they have caught themselves looking nervously out the shop's window as customers approach.

An attendant at the Lipton Mart across the street said another robbery somewhere on the street feels inevitable. Jared Bruso, who has worked at Palmer's for four years, concurred.

"I'm kind of getting used to the feeling," he said. "It isn't if, it's a matter of when."

To reach Ned Oliver:
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