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After a rash of holdups, Tampa Bay area store owners are fighting back

Mohammed Abu Sayed, 49, was at his Friendly Meat and Grocery store in Tampa when he was confronted by armed men Tuesday night. Sayed grabbed his own weapon and fought back. He is seen Thursday morning behind bulletproof glass.

STEPHEN J. CODDINGTON | Times

Mohammed Abu Sayed, 49, was at his Friendly Meat and Grocery store in Tampa when he was confronted by armed men Tuesday night. Sayed grabbed his own weapon and fought back. He is seen Thursday morning behind bulletproof glass.

TAMPA

Mohammed Abu Sayed was wiping Lotto-card scratchings from the counter of his Friendly Meat and Grocery when two men in ski masks and hoodies dashed through the front door.

One pointed a revolver to Sayed's head as the other headed to the cooler for a six pack.

"They told me, 'Give me money! Don't move!' " Sayed recalled Thursday as he stood in the bullet-resistant enclosure of his store, a 9mm pistol tucked in his pants, his feet planted, his fingers pointing. "I move. Very quick I move."

It was the fourth attempted robbery of Sayed's convenience store since it opened in May. This time, he was ready.

Sayed, 49, grabbed a .32-caliber pistol, crouched and aimed. The robbers fled, firing behind them as they ran.

As violent robberies continue to make headlines across Tampa Bay, store owners and city officials have begun to look at ways to halt the holdups.

Police have encouraged safes and silent alarms. Clerks have cleared windows and lighted parking lots. The St. Petersburg City Council is considering ordinances that would require electronic door locks, connected to a buzzer switch behind the counter.

Sayed knows about spending for safety. After his first robbery in September, during which armed men took around $900 from his fledgling shop at 1910 N 34th St., he beefed up security: $13,000 for bullet-resistant glass, $2,800 for a multicamera surveillance system. And $459 for the gun.

A manila folder in the store's back room holds Sayed's concealed-carry certificate, paperwork to join the National Rifle Association and receipts for his pistols.

But the robberies haven't stopped. Since December, he's had a robbery attempt each month.

"I didn't shoot them. I didn't want to kill any people," he said. "But they wanted to kill me."

Though clerks are urged to call police when they're in danger, Sayed was within his rights when he pulled his gun, said Laura McElroy of the Tampa Police Department.

The state's 2005 "Stand Your Ground Law," allows people being attacked to "meet force with force, including deadly force."

"That's their legal right to do that," McElroy said. Still, she added, "that's what the police are for. We're a phone call away."

But in the quick seconds of Tuesday night's robbery, the phone was the last thing on Sayed's mind. No one was injured, but marks of gunfire still dent the building. One round, fired by the robber as he ran, ricocheted off his front window. The other, which flew through the opened glass divider above his register, cracked a shelf of lottery tickets.

They're tough reminders for Sayed, who said he just wants to make a living for himself, his wife, Rashida, and his 21-year-old son, Saiful. He moved to the United States from Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 1995, and laid the foundation for his family to move over in 2001.

After working a peaceful decade at a gas station on Fowler Avenue at 15th Street, he opened his own store on N 34th Street. But the rash of violent robberies has hit close to home.

"In this area, a lot of people have the gun. A lot of bad people," he said. "My son wouldn't work here before the bulletproof glass."

Drew Harwell can be reached at dharwell@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3386.

After a rash of holdups, Tampa Bay area store owners are fighting back 02/26/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 27, 2009 12:15am]
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