Up since 3:45 a.m. and without caffeine until noon, Nora Partlow, owner of St. Elmos, remains upbeat despite waking to news of an early morning burglary at her coffee pub.
I hope [the thieves] use the money for food and not drugs, she said, leaning over a coffee table after the morning rush. But Im pretty sure theyll use it for drugs.
The criminals knew what they were doing, she said. They smashed in the Del Ray Avenue facing door triggering a silent alarm disabled the lock and headed right for the bank bags. They were in and out within three minutes, Partlow said.
After losing $1,500 to the burglars, Partlow couldnt stand the thought of closing shop for the day. Luckily, the thieves left behind the register drawer cash and Partlow opened for business like she usually does despite the police tape stretched across the shattered glass of one entrance.
Thursday is very busy and Ive been going nonstop. Once you lose money, you dont want to stop business, she said. I was hoping it was a false alarm, but the minute I pulled up and looked at the door, I said here we go again.
In fourteen years of business on the corner of Mount Vernon and Del Ray avenues, the glass windows have been maliciously broken twice and the shop robbed once. That time the thieves pried Partlows safe and hauled it out of the store, making it as far as the bike trail by Braddock Metro Station before ditching the vault unopened.
Still, customers expressed disbelief at the idea someone would burglarize the Del Ray institution. They offered words of condolence, some proposing starting a fund to replace the stolen money.
Everybody is so shocked, they say but Del Ray is so safe, Partlow said. But I say there are bad people everywhere.
She suspects the thief may have been a former employee. The job was to quick, to precise, for just a criminal without prior knowledge of the store. Nothing else was taken, just the bank bags, she said.
So shell upgrade her security system and continue to push for better lighting up and down the avenue. Theyve asked the city for brighter lights, to deter crime and encourage foot traffic, for years.
But in a neighborhood thats seen gentrification over the past few decades, Partlow believes the store has been spared many incidents of vandalism or theft.
I have to consider myself lucky, she said. Nobody takes the chairs or umbrella, I dont chain them down, but nobody has taken anything. I believe in a karma of trust.