ST. PETERSBURG — Targeted by criminals, convenience stores will now have to install security cameras and automatic door locks and clear windows of any distracting signs.
The City Council passed two ordinances Thursday that require convenience stores, including mom-and-pop operations, to beef up their security.
"It's clearly going to make convenience businesses safer," said council member Karl Nurse, who pitched the ordinances after his daughter, a former criminology student, suggested the idea.
The law comes after five clerks and a St. Petersburg detective were wounded by gunfire in five South Pinellas robberies. City officials essentially adopted state store safety regulations but, unlike the state, included family-owned stores.
The new law also requires convenience stores that are robbed to undergo safety inspections.
They'll then have to implement at least one of the following late-night measures: keep two employees on duty at all times; hire a security guard; or lock the store and transact business only through a trapdoor or window. Store owners also could comply by closing their business between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. or installing a bulletproof enclosure to protect their employees.
"This is an important step to make," said Mayor Rick Baker.
Police Chief Chuck Harmon initially said the safety requirements might be a burden for struggling store owners, then came up with a compromise last month. Money confiscated during arrests will now be used to establish a grant program to help offset the cost of the electronic door locks.
Harmon suggested shop owners could apply for a $500 grant, which would cover most of the $700 a typical door lock system costs. An application process is in the works.
But store owners will receive no aid for the other security measures they must now implement.
New surveillance systems could cost between $2,000 and $3,000 for multiple cameras with night vision and a recording device with a hard drive.
Store owners who don't comply could face fines as high as $500, said City Attorney John Wolfe, though city officials are still figuring out how they will enforce the ordinances.
Police officers will begin informing store owners of the new requirements today, said police spokesman Bill Proffitt.
"We want to educate everyone on the city ordinances before any enforcement takes place," he said.
Sid Shah, a spokesman for the Asian American Convenience Stores Association, said the ordinances will make store employees safer, but he had some concerns. Shah, who owns the Texaco at 3727 Tyrone Blvd., defended the use of window signs.
"We need to advertise our prices, what specials we are doing," said Shah, the only store owner to speak at the meeting. "If you take that away from us, we have no place to advertise our prices."
That wasn't enough to persuade city leaders, who declined to change the ordinances because fewer signs will allow pedestrians and motorists to see into the stores and potentially prevent crimes.
Terence Wells, 39, a clerk at the Palm Bay Grocery on Third Avenue S, has feared for his life since the first convenience store shootings in December. He said Palm Bay already has nine security cameras, but his boss will most likely have to remove some beer and cigarette posters on the windows, install new locks and hire a second employee at night.
"I could understand why some small businesses might be worried in this economy about this," he said. "But it all sounds pretty reasonable to me."