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Vergennes Victims

Side Dishes: Rash of robberies plagues restaurants

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When Matt Birong — owner of 3 Squares Café in Vergennes — invested in a hefty new safe for storing money, he figured he had the criminals beat. “We got robbed in early May,” he says. “Forced entry at the back door. I was like, ‘My fault for having a shitty little safe.’”

Two Saturdays ago, the new, heavier version proved inadequate. “It’s a mangled piece of metal,” Birong laments. “They came back with the right tools.” When the thieves left, they had about $2000 in cash, but no change, food or booze.

Brett Ward, owner of nearby City Limits Nite Club, is familiar with the MO: He’s been robbed twice, and both he and Birong conjecture that the same people are to blame. “I’ve got tons of liquor and cigarettes. They didn’t take that,” Ward notes.

That crime is all the more impressive given that, unlike other Vergennes businesses, Ward’s club is “pretty much a fortress,” he says. In the most recent incident, thieves dismantled floodlights atop the roof of a neighboring building before spending three hours breaking down City Limits’ reinforced steel door. (Ward knows this because his security cameras recorded the noise of their efforts.) Once inside, they covered their faces and cut the wires to the cameras before cracking the safe. Ward may invest in a pricey security system to forestall future incidents.

Betsy Vick of Park Squeeze — which has weathered a handful of break-in attempts, including two successful burglaries — has a lower-tech approach. She never leaves money at the restaurant overnight. “I have notes on my door saying, ‘Crooks go away. No cash here,’” she says. Nonetheless, every door in her building has been broken down by intruders, and the repair costs are adding up. While all the restaurants have some form of insurance, they still have to contend with deductibles and gaps in coverage.

All three business owners noted that other area restaurants have been broken into, too. Why is Vergennes a target? Both Birong and Vick guess that it has something to do with the lack of police coverage during the wee hours. They say it’s a well-known fact that police officers are off duty between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.

“We’d like to have more police coverage in the middle of the night,” says Vick, who is working with other business owners to petition city council for a solution. Another option: “Shake it up so no one knows when they’re on duty.”

Birong agrees that something needs to be done. “With all the press about our police chief recently resigning, every media outlet in town is advertising that there are no cops in this town,” he says. “If I were a criminal, I’d be robbing Vergennes, too.”

In other restaurant crime news, a quartet of twentysomethings was arrested for grand larceny last week after they attempted to steal the logo from Bennington’s Chili’s Restaurant.

According to a blurb in the Rutland Herald, the perpetrators powered a drill via 470 feet of extension cord, which they ran across a major roadway and through a store parking lot. They were caught before they could make off with the spicy red pepper sign, valued by the restaurant chain at $8000.

Had the culprits made a clean getaway, the massive capsicum would have been a gift for a friend, they told police.

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