John West didn't think the man standing in front of him with a sawed-off shotgun would really use it.
"He didn't look that bad," the 65-year-old said of the gunman who showed up at his family home improvement business in Annapolis Wednesday. "I figured I could resist him OK."
So West called the gunman's bluff.
"I told him., 'Sorry, we don't keep money in this store,' " he said. "Then I opened my wallet and I forgot that my wife had given me $5, so he took that."
To makethe robber think he was not alone, West called to his son Larry, whowas not in the store.
"He was holding the gun in one hand and pushing me back into the back of the store," West said. "I knew if he got me back further into the store I would get hurt. So I started calling out to Larry, and he got really nervous then and left."
The holdup at West's business, Earthway International, in the 1900 block of West Street, was the latest in a string of armed robberies in that area.
"People are trying to feed their drug habits," said Officer Dermott Hickey, Annapolis police spokesman. "It's more drug-related than (connected to) the economy."
Besides Earthway International, twopizza shops, a car shop and the manager of one of the pizza shops along West Street have been robbed since the end of February.
At 4:45 p.m. on Sunday, a gunman walked into Cleaning by Riley in the 1900 block of West Street, threatened a 17-year-old clerk and left with anundetermined amount of money.
"It's too early to tell if they areall linked," Hickey said. "But we have a good suspect, and there is a possibility they are linked."
In four of the six incidents, descriptions have been roughly the same: two black men, one about 6 feet tall, with a thin build and light-colored skin, wielding a shotgun. The second man, carrying a handgun, has been described as about 5-feet-7 and heavier than his accomplice.
Whether because of drugs or the economy, robberies in the county are rising, statistics show.
"My theory is drugs and the state of the economy," said county police Sgt. George Johnson. "People are out of jobs."
Johnson said the period between October and January are usually busy months for holdups.
"But now it seems we have gone well into March," he said.
Annapolis police have worked 37 robbery cases so far this year, compared to 18 during the first three months of 1989. County police have investigated 73 robberies during the first quarter of 1991, compared to 56 in 1990.
In an unrelated holdup at 9:55 p.m. Wednesday, a gunman robbed a Severn convenience store of an undetermined amount of money.
County police said the man, with the gun tucked into his waistband, walked into a High's in the 2600 block Annapolis Road and ordered the clerk to empty the cash register.
The robber was described as awhite male, 5-feet-10, medium build with curly brown hair to the collar. He had a brown mustache and was wearing a blue-and-white flanneljacket and blue jeans.
While those responsible for the latest string of robberies remain at large, police have arrested several men sofar this year on multiple robbery charges.
Francis Xavier Geppie,23, of the 8000 block of Green Orchard Road in Glen Burnie, was arrested March 5 and charged with one count of armed robbery. Police willforward five other cases in which Geppie is a suspect to a grand jury, Johnson said.
Another man arrested, Gregory Lloyd Gasper, of the 1700 block of Drever Trail in Annapolis, is believed by police to be the "Pony Tail Robber," who often would threaten to blow up businesses where clerks refused to hand over money.
Gasper may be responsible for 14 robberies in Anne Arundel, Prince George's and Baltimore counties, as well as Fairfax, Va., Johnson said.
Anne Arundel County police charged him with six robberies.
Charges are pending against Mark Thomas Basil, 23, of the 700 block of Woods Road, who was shot by a county police officer after a robbery at a Kentucky Fried Chicken on Route 3 in Millersville March 20.
Police said he is a suspect in several other county robberies.
Meanwhile, Annapolis police are offering a $500 reward for information leading to the man who robbed Rixie's Pizza in the 2000 block of West Street Feb. 25.
The restaurant owner told police that a man with a gun walked in and jumped over the counter. After a second robber entered, the first forced the store owner and an employee into a back room. One of the robbers took over $300 from a cash register, then demanded more. The owner gave the robber money from her purse.
The two robbers were describedas black men, one about 25 years old with a slim build and wearing ared coat, the other in his 20s with a heavy build, wearing a black ski mask and carrying a handgun.