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Surveillance screenshot on display at Dark Hall Coffee.EXPAND
Surveillance screenshot on display at Dark Hall Coffee.
Lauren Cusimano

A Rash of Seventh Avenue Restaurant Robberies — But Not All Was Lost

As you may have seen on social media, many small businesses along Seventh Avenue in central Phoenix’s rapidly growing Melrose District and surrounding neighborhoods were rocked by a series of robberies last month. Multiple coffee shops were hit (some twice), along with well-known eateries and additional businesses.

The  list of businesses robbed, according to social media  includes Copper Star Coffee, Dark Hall Coffee, Short Leash Hotdogs + Rollover Doughnuts, PHX Burrito House, Restaurant Progress, Scooter's Coffee, Crazy Jim's, Pho Noodles, Subway No. 1941, and other businesses including Renaissance Tattoo Studio and a Great Clips.

But we can't get an official headcount from law enforcement.

Phoenix New Times reached out to the Phoenix Police Department several times shortly after the robberies occurred for information on the businesses affected and has not received a response. For now, this story is getting around by the same avenue that initially brought it to everyone’s attention — the internet. Or more specifically, social media.

Dark Hall Coffee, the independently owned vegan coffee and pastry shop at Seventh Avenue and Osborn Road, has unfortunately become the star of this particular crime spree. As of now, it is the only business to have been broken into twice.

First on Thursday, March 21, around 6:44 p.m., an intruder kicked in the back door and stole the register, the checkout iPad, and some chargers. The alarm went off, but the equipment was not communicating with the alarm company (unbeknownst to Dark Hall owners and employees).

Inside Dark Hall Coffee.EXPAND
Inside Dark Hall Coffee.
Lauren Cusimano

“He was in our building less than one minute,” co-owner Liz Tavarez says via email. “We believe this intruder stuck around to see if the police showed up and when they didn't, he notified others who were doing burglaries in the area or that he was working with.”

This was the first such incident Dark Hall has experienced. Another was coming.

On Sunday, March 24, around 4:20 a.m, an intruder threw a rock through one of the windows and crawled in. Tavarez says the man immediately went to the back, ripped the alarm panel off of the wall, and then stood on a sink to rip the alarm’s siren off of the wall (leaving his hand print on the ceiling).

The thief forced open a register, emptied the little change there was into a trash bag, then attempted to open the shop's safe. It wouldn't open, and he unsuccessfully tried to move it. Back out the window he crawled; his visit totaled about 15 minutes. Again, the alarm panel didn't communicate with the security company, Tavarez says.

Despite the safe staying put, the little things were adding up. Xanadu Roasters, another local coffee business, was operating in the back of Dark Hall — roasting coffee for Dark Hall and other spots. Xanadu had a few small items stolen as well.

“For a small business, it's never easy to have to come out of pocket immediately for expenses that you weren't planning on incurring,” Tavarez says. “We don't keep money or really anything of value in the shop, so the majority of the cost is the damage they've done to the building.”

But another business' safe wasn’t so lucky.

A half-mile north, the recently opened Scooter’s Coffee at Seventh Avenue and Indian School Road was burglarized at 3:53 a.m. on Sunday, March 24 (PHX Burrito House was also hit that morning). A rock was thrown through the window and then unlocked. Nothing was in the cash registers, but the intruder did find the 300-pound safe.

“He somehow lifted it into our 50-gallon trashcan on wheels,” co-owner Ashley Gass says via email. “It fell over a few times on him. He then went to the back of the store and exited. The trash can kept falling over due to the weight of the safe.”

Gass says the shop's trashcan was later found in an alley by Short Leash Hotdogs + Rollover Doughnuts — less than a half-mile north on Seventh Avenue and across from Copper Star Coffee, another target in this series.

“Everything can be replaced, but it stinks as a new small business owner trying to make it in central Phoenix,” Gass says. “All of the shops targeted all work so hard and we have invested so much in our businesses.”

As of press time, no arrests have been made.

However, despite broken glass and the unimaginable stress of the situation, Tavarez says Dark Hall’s sense of the community has not been rocked.

“The people who choose to do these things to small local businesses are not our community so they don't affect our sense of community,” she says. “Our community is the people who reached out online to support us, say they are angry for us, shared our Instagram post, came in those days and bought an extra coffee or pastry, and offered to booby-trap our shop, Home Alone style. THAT is our community.”

Outside and inside views of broken window at Scooter's Coffee.EXPAND
Outside and inside views of broken window at Scooter's Coffee.
Courtesy of Scooter's Coffee

Gass echoes this.

“It has been really great to see the Melrose community and all of our customers supporting us and the other businesses and ultimately wanting to put an end to this as well as find the criminal,” she says. “We are grateful to be a part of a community who supports everyone.”

And support went beyond social media.

A meeting was held on Tuesday, March 26, with area businesses, Councilwoman Laura Pastor, the Neighborhood Services Department, and the community action officer for the area.

But no more specific information was made available to the public.

Pastor's office responded with contact information for community action officer Ben Harris of the Mountain View Precinct, who replied via email, "Thank you for reaching out, but unfortunately I can not release any information." He referred us to the Phoenix PD public information officer we reached out to previously for this story. We have yet to receive a response.

Despite the losses, Tavarez is trying to see a bright side to the incidents.

“Everyone's eyes are on this,” she says, “and we're pretty excited for the way this is motivating everyone to be even more watchful over each other's shops.”

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