ST. PETERSBURG — Khokan Mondal reached into the convenience store fridge and stuffed another Mountain Dew bottle into the row.
He was about five hours into his shift at City Food Mart on 66th Street N on Tuesday and he was still shaky from being robbed at gunpoint the week before.
He turned to grab another bottle when he saw him. The man had a white sweat shirt pulled over his mouth and pointed his hand menacingly under his shirt toward the 53-year-old clerk.
He has a gun, Mondal thought. And his nightmare started again.
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Convenience stores are an easy target for the desperate.
Four years ago, St. Petersburg saw a streak of particularly violent robberies. City officials urged store owners to invest in security. By early 2009, robbers had shot five store clerks and city leaders considered requiring store owners to hire guards, install security cameras and put in bulletproof glass.
The measure that passed in 2009 required stores to remove distracting window signs and have security cameras and automatic door locks. In 2009, there were at least 43 robberies at convenience stores. Last year, there were 11.
But three months into this year, clerks at seven St. Petersburg stores have been robbed.
That doesn't include three robberies at City Food Mart, where Mondal works, because it's a few blocks outside city limits despite its St. Petersburg address.
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Mondal edged away from the hooded man.
A shopping cart blocked his path to the exit, so Mondal went the other way, back toward the cash register.
"Give me all the money," the man demanded, gesturing toward the cash box.
Mondal emptied the register of every dollar and handed it to the robber. Then, Mondal said, he put his head down and ran out of the store.
The man left soon after.
When Pinellas County sheriff's deputies arrived about 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, Mondal told them he thought he recognized his robber's voice. He thinks it was the same guy who had robbed him last week.
The Sheriff's Office put out an alert for the robber, who they described as young and black, of average build. They said he wore a white sweat shirt with a black logo, khaki shorts and black-and-white tennis shoes. They released a surveillance photo, but they have no suspects.
During the March 27 robbery, Mondal said, a man walked up and pointed a gun at him.
The robber emptied the cash box and then demanded Mondal's BlackBerry and an El Producto cigar, Mondal said.
Mondal started working at City Food Mart about three years ago and thought he had escaped the violence. He was robbed once before at his previous job at Golden Food Store on 46th Avenue N.
"I want to quit. I am scared," he said. "Then maybe, if I go somewhere (else) then maybe I get robbed or somebody shoot me."
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Mondal, who lives in St. Petersburg, went home Tuesday night and explained to his wife and children that he was robbed again.
His wife and stepdaughter visited the store the next day in tears.
"They're crying too much," he said. "Just crying."
But he said he has more than his safety to worry about.
There are bills to pay and people who need his support.
His 26-year-old son is taking English classes at a Clearwater college, and he has a 5-year-old stepdaughter. His mother in India has heart problems, he said, and he helps pay her nursing home and hospital bills. His ex-wife helps care for her, and he sends what he can.
"If I don't send for her $300 or $400, then I can't take care of my mommy," said Mondal, who moved to the United States in 1999.
He's sick, too.
About six months ago, he said, he had surgery on his colon. He said it hurts to move heavy boxes. "If I don't make money, I don't know what I'd do," he said.
Regular customers stopped by Thursday to buy cigarettes and check in on Mondal.
A woman in light-wash jeans stepped up to the counter.
"It's terrible," she told him. "I heard what happened."
"It's terrible, my dear," Mondal said.
"Maybe you want to start closing a little earlier right now?"
"It's very risky," he replied. "Very risky."
Staff writer Jessica Floum contributed to this report.
Correction: In 2009, St. Petersburg City Council passed a law that required convenience stores to clear windows of signs and have security cameras and automatic door locks. Earlier versions of this story appearing in print and online gave a different account.