Texas

“Sleeping in our gun bars” | Crime-weary Houston business owners ask city for help

A group of bar owners in Houston are fed up with repeated break-ins. They even slept in their businesses, armed to keep thieves from breaking in.

HOUSTON. Fed up bar owners in Houston are putting pressure on city officials. This comes after repeated break-ins forced some owners to sleep in their businesses – armed ones.

On Wednesday, a group of bar owners reported their displeasure to the Houston City Council.

“I’ve been robbed 15 times in the last year,” Lindsey Ray said.

She is the owner of Two Headed Dog in Midtown. Ray spoke on behalf of a coalition of bar owners who have come under repeated attack.

Ray pointed to the Houston Police Department’s response time: “Alarm response time is one to four hours.”

She also highlighted what they consider repeat offenders: “We see if they get caught, they get re-released because of the bail issues we have. They might come back and rob us again.”

Sean Fitzmaurice is the owner of Reserve 101.

“This is the biggest problem right now, me and a lot of other bar owners are sleeping in our gun bars,” Fitzmaurice said.

Marina Slanina owns Star Sailor in the Heights.

“We are all hacked, and things are stolen in bars,” Slanina said.

Fitzmaurice and Slanina were among the bar owners who showed up on Wednesday.

Several council members spoke out in response, with many emphasizing that this is an issue that HPD is addressing.

“They’re looking at when these hacks are happening and when they can add resources at that time,” council member Robert Gallegos said.

“Just be sure that your police department is investigating these cases,” council member Michael Knox said.

Council members in the areas where the bars were attacked said they plan to contact the owners to help find solutions.

This comes a week after KHOU 11 News reported on the ongoing burglaries. This is a problem that has caused several small business owners to lose thousands of dollars. The group has stated that they are coming together as a unit.

“It’s a series of break-ins. Inaction on the part of anyone has been a catalyst for all of us to come together,” Fitzmaurice said.

“It’s not just money that can replace these things, it’s something we need to deal with,” Slanina said.

HPD said it has stepped up patrols in these areas. The department said it is also working to educate business owners on what they can do to avoid being targeted.

More owners chased by thieves

Some of the owners said investigators have shown more interest in the crimes since last week’s report, but burglaries have definitely not stopped.

“I saved up money for years, found this place and bought it,” said Coaches Pub owner Robert Curry.

He moved from Missouri to Houston eight months ago when he saw the bar was for sale. Curry finally got the chance to fulfill his dream.

“I lived in my RV for the first four months while I was here in Houston to get started,” Curry said. “And to be honest, it was my baby.”

During the first few months of Curry’s ownership, the Midtown pub did well.

The football season and the World Series games brought only standing people to the bar. But three months ago, the honeymoon ended.

“Do you regret your decision to come to Houston?” asked Matt Dougherty of KHOU 11.

“I’ll be honest,” Curry said. “Sometimes I do.”

Like other owners, Curry sometimes had to sleep in his bar to protect his property. The last time the pub was attacked was on Friday. CCTV footage shows what happened after the thief broke in.

“Oddly enough, he likes amaretto, so there’s a bottle he just can’t resist,” Curry said. “And I mean he will shop. He would collect them and put them on the fridge opposite, and then come back and take what he wanted.”

But more expensive than the stolen booze is the damage that Curry must fix the morning after the burglary. Despite sealing the windows with protective film and installing wrought iron bars inside the pub, nothing worked.

“Once you fix everything, it will break something else,” Curry said. “With the renovations and everything, now it’s worth more than 10 thousand.”

Curry said the police usually respond as soon as they are notified by the security company, but the thief always manages to get away. He said that every time it was the same: the police took the report, gave him a number, then left.

“I love cops, but I think if we don’t pay attention to smaller problems, they become bigger problems,” Curry said.

The burglary has become a big and costly problem for Fitzmaurice, who owns Reserve 101.

“The next time he comes, it might be the last time he comes,” he said.

Fitzmaurice’s bar has been hit five times in the last five weeks.

“We’re in the same position as a lot of other guys where some of us are sleeping in defense bars, which is kind of a language that none of us want to speak,” he said.

The nationally acclaimed Fitzmaurice Whiskey Bar has been on the corner of Caroline and Dallas for 14 years. The cost of recent hacks in Reserve 101 is significant.

“I’d say it’s about $100,000 right now between the amount of money he took, the number of bottles he took, the repairs we had to do,” Fitzmaurice said. “It was cruel.”

The owner said that after the break-ins, his rarest and most expensive bottles of whiskey were taken off the premises.

“There are other bottles that he took that are simply irreplaceable in the sense that they no longer exist,” he said.

Fitzmaurice said he almost gave up on repairs.

“He came so many times that we stopped fixing the window because he comes every week and we are tired of changing the window every week,” he said.

While these crimes are considered non-violent, Fitzmaurice said law enforcement and judges should take them seriously.

For now, he and the other owners said they were left to fend for themselves.

“These guys come and go in 15 minutes,” Fitzmaurice said. “We have a police station two blocks from us. The fastest response we have received is around 45 minutes. We know that we are the ones guarding them right now.”

Many owners say the last call is fast approaching. If the break-ins don’t stop, their bars will close forever.

“I don’t know what to do anymore,” Curry said. “If it doesn’t change… if something doesn’t work out for the better, you can’t hold on to it. I cant. I can’t resist.”

An HPD spokesman said police are actively investigating the burglaries and will continue to work with bar owners to identify and find suspects.

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