Local businesses are dumping cash receipts into drop safes. Employees are wearing less jewelry. Customers are jittery, and the police have been flooded with calls about suspicious people.
As healthy caution turns to fear, the unsolved series of shotgun robberies in Baltimore and Baltimore County is changing the way the public goes about its business.
"We make sure that there's not a lot of money on hand," said Duane Duke, night manager of a Bob's Big Boy on Reisterstown Road, near the Beltway. "It goes in the drop safe that can only be opened in the morning by the armored car drivers."
Said Sergeant Richard Barger, a robbery detective in Northeast Baltimore: "Calls for suspicious people have exploded. People are calling in with descriptions and license tag numbers. As caution goes, that's good, but it has really increased the amount of information we are running down."
And while customers don't seem to have wholly abandoned the American routine of eating in fast-food restaurants and dropping by convenience stores, the crime spree is on their minds.
"We've got a problem," said Keith Simmons, a Pikesville businessman eating hamburgers with his wife and four children Thursday night at the Big Boy's on Reisterstown Road.
Mr. Simmons' response to the problem is to carry a gun, which he bought and registered two years ago after he and his wife happened upon an armed robbery at an ice cream store.
"You're talking about guys with shotguns and semi-automatics," Mr. Simmons said. "That's dangerous. What's one policeman going to do against that?"
Mrs. Simmons said she has stopped taking her children grocery shopping with her and doesn't allow her mother-in-law to take the kids to areas she thinks are dangerous.
"[What] this has stopped us from doing is shopping on Liberty Road," she said, referring to a supermarket robbery there. "It's scary. I don't want the children going anywhere without me."
In most of the holdups, at least one of the suspect has carried a shotgun, which has led to them being dubbed the "shotgun bandits."
The police say that all of the bandits are young, black, tall and slim, and known to wear long coats. That has created fear when more than one person fitting that description walks into a store, business managers say.
Said Sergeant Barger: "It's not prejudice, it's fear."
"You watch everything and everyone that comes in, especially young black men," said Cherees Clark, a Burger King manager at 8802 Liberty Road that was hit by the gang two months ago.
Mrs. Clark, a religious woman who attends church regularly wither husband and three-year-old child, said she says an extra prayer before she begins work at the Liberty Road Burger King, where she works once a week.
"I help run another restaurant for the owner on Nursery Road," said Mrs. Clark. "There I feel more relaxed. They hit this store before. I don't feel safe. I was considering telling my boss that I only wanted to work at the other store."
Mary Zittle, a Cub Hill mother of two supermarket clerks who work in Baltimore County stores, was at the counter of a Hardees on Joppa Road Thursday night buying burgers and chatting with the manager about the robberies.
Mrs. Zittle said because of the robberies she now goes grocery shopping without her wedding rings and because the violence is on her mind, she is distracted from her shopping list as she goes up and down the aisles.
What she really worries about, she said, is the safety of her sons -- not because their stores have been hit but because they haven't.
At a McDonald's on Liberty Heights Road near Northern Parkway, night manager Angela Moore said she can't stop thinking about the robberies which have occurred at businesses all around her.
While her McDonald's was robbed three times last year, Ms. Moore feels lucky to have avoided the shotgun gangs so far.
"Everything has been robbed around here but us," said Ms. Moore, who said employees have been told to regularly dump cash into the store's drop safe.
Said Cherees Clark: "I have relatives serving in the [Persian] Gulf and they keep writing us, telling us how we're going to be so united when we come back. I almost hate to write them back that we have our own war going on in Maryland. It's ridiculous."