Harborplace stores, police on lookout after two armed robberies

Incidents in Pratt pavilion occurred during afternoon

September 21, 2000|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Two afternoon armed robberies in the past week at Baltimore's Harborplace have put merchants on edge and prompted a heightened police presence at the city's premier tourist and shopping attraction.

Detectives said yesterday that they are looking for one person in both cases - the holdup of a costume jewelry store Sept. 14 and a sunglasses stand Tuesday. Each time, clerks said, a man demanded money and lifted his shirt to display a handgun stuffed into his waistband.

No arrests had been made as of yesterday.

Police officers patrolling the area yesterday expressed amazement that an armed gunman would be brazen enough to rob stores in the Pratt Street pavilion, normally crowded with daytime shoppers.

Employees complained yesterday that officials with the Rouse Co., which runs the Inner Harbor shopping center, kept the first robbery quiet and prevented employees and customers from taking precautionary measures.

"I just think they should have been telling people what was going on," said Amy M. Taylor, 25, who was held up Tuesday at the Sunglass Hut. "I heard about the first robbery from word of mouth."

Rouse officials said they're responding. Private security guards stood with several merchants near where the robberies occurred on the first floor of the pavilion between two restaurants, the Cheesecake Factory and Planet Hollywood.

"It's certainly something we are concerned about and responding to," said Jody Clark, a Rouse vice president in charge of the Inner Harbor properties.

Clark said that the first holdup was viewed as an isolated incident, and company officials didn't want to alarm people by issuing warnings. But after the latest incident, they decided to warn merchants and "talk to them about safety measures," she said.

City police have increased patrols. Officers riding bicycles patrolled the promenade while others were inside the Pratt Street pavilion.

The incidents are similar to a string of robberies in August 1995 at the Light Street pavilion, in which four stores were held up in a month, all by one man, police said at the time.

Those attacks occurred at night, minutes before stores closed, and nervous merchants shut their doors early. Police quickly made an arrest, but prosecutors later dropped the case.

Violent crime is rare in the Inner Harbor area, which attracts thousands of tourists and usually is crowded during lunchtime with downtown workers.

The first robbery during the past week occurred about 3:30 p.m. at Impostors, the costume jewelry shop. Stephie Williams, 51, told police that a man walked in and asked to speak to a woman named Cynthia.

Informed that no one named Cynthia worked there, the man glanced into the back office and told Williams, "I want your money," the police report says.

"The suspect opened his coat and lifted his sweater displaying a large handgun with a black handle" in his left waistband, the report says. The gunman walked out with $200. The robber was described as a 28- to 30-year-old black man, 5 feet 10 inches to 6 feet tall, weighing 180 pounds, and wearing a black trench coat, black sweater and black pants.

Police said a man with a similar appearance robbed the Sunglass Hut of $349 at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday. The man was wearing a navy blue baseball cap, a denim jean jacket and matching pants.

Taylor, the clerk, said the man lifted the left side of his shirt, revealing the gun.

"That's all I needed to see," Taylor said in an interview.

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