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Park Cafe robbed at gunpoint for fifth time in four months

After five robberies in four months, Park Cafe & Coffee Bar is no longer accepting cash.

Park Cafe & Coffee Bar was robbed at gunpoint Friday for the fifth time in four months, but business is continuing as usual at the Bolton Hill eatery despite the string of crime.

David Hart, the owner of the cafe at 132 McMechen St., said he's taken new security precautions after each incident, adding more security cameras, installing panic bars on doors, increasing the lighting and locking the doors early. And each time, the gunman has found a way around them. 

"It seems very close to home, and somehow they’re getting information via kind of what we share with our customers at the bar," he said.

The robberies took place on Oct. 12, Oct. 31, Nov. 9, Jan. 14 and, most recently, Jan. 20.

Now, the cafe is going cashless, a measure Hart worries will deter some loyal customers who may not have credit cards. He said he will try to work with those patrons to provide them with gift cards.

"We’re hoping that taking cash out of the equation, it just puts us in a new paradigm," he said.

When he opened the cafe and initially installed security systems, Hart never thought he would have to use them, he said.

"Never in my wildest imagination did I think that this would really be an issue for me," he said.

The cafe opened two years ago in February. With low counters and garage doors that open when the weather is nice, it was designed to welcome in the community. 

"In some ways that makes us a really nice target," Hart said. "You can get in and out of that cafe in less than 20 seconds with everything in the drawer, just by virtue of the way we structured it."

Hart said he's seen an increase in crime in the entire neighborhood, not just at the cafe.

The Mount Royal Improvement Association and the Maryland Institute College of Art will host a town hall meeting on safety issues from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 1 at Falvey Hall at 1300 W. Mount Royal Ave.

Central District police commander Maj. Kevin Jones could not be reached for comment for this story. 

Hart said he's lost some employees due to the robberies.

"I’ve had staff who couldn’t take the stress or the pressure for obvious reasons," he said.

Although people have been inside the restaurant during each incident, Hart said he's grateful no one has been hurt. He also noted that more customers are turning out to support Park Cafe in the wake of the robberies, and said he hasn't noticed a change in revenue.

"On the plus side of things I am very lucky that I have opened a cafe in a community with the strength that Bolton Hill and Reservoir Hill and Sandtown-Winchester bring to the table," he said. "On the opposite side of the tragedy, here is the community pulling together and patronizing the cafe more than ever."

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