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Break-ins and theft continue to plague downtown businesses

At least three Sudbury businesses have been victims of property crimes in the past two weeks

A number of local businesses have been victims of property crimes in the past few weeks and the owners are becoming frustrated.

Comics North on Elm Street, Damascus on Cedar Street and Trand Kitchens on the Kingsway have all been broken into in the last month and have suffered hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in losses.

Damascus Cafe and Bakery on Beech Street has been hit by both vandalism and theft recently. The cafe's owner, Hussein Qarquoz, the patriarch of the first Syrian refugee family to settle in Sudbury, says that he has noticed more people congregating in the areas near his restaurant since the pandemic took hold.

The pain in Qarquoz' voice was evident when he spoke about the situation, as the generous business owner opened his doors and handed out free meals to the city's less fortunate last year around the holidays.

"I'm seeing more homeless people, they're hanging out around the front of the store," said Qarquoz, whose front door was broken at the cafe a week ago. "We notice there's more people here now, it's a very bad time."

A few months ago, Qarquoz' van was broken into and his wallet was stolen. The thieves pulled nearly $3,000 from Hussein's account and it has caused him a lot of difficulty and he now fears he could lose his cafe.

"We've been very slow because of COVID-19, but I had $2,800 stolen and I can't pay rent for October or November," said Qarquoz. "I'm trying to save my business. I've been giving free food to homeless people, but I can't afford to do this anymore."

Frustration has also been mounting for Comics North owner Cal Abram, just up the road from the Damascus Cafe. His store was broken into twice in the span of three weeks, with numerous video games and high-end merchandise stolen.

"I've heard a lot from the mayor but I haven't seen anything," said Abram. "Thanksgiving was the first time and then they came back to see if we had an alarm system or if it was triggered or anything."

A lack of police presence in the downtown core was something of a sticking point for Abram, pointing to recent filming in the downtown as the safest he's ever felt.

"When they were filming a movie a block away from us we've never felt safer. There were six, seven, eight cops around," said Abrams. "Do I have to have a movie being filmed here every night to ensure a bit of safety?"

Break-ins or issues with mischief incidents are nothing new to Abrams, whose store has been located in the downtown for nearly 40 years. 

"Usually something like this happens about once a year, but it's definitely ramped up since COVID-19," said Abrams, who had similar sentiments to those of Peppi Panini owner Jay Bertin  when it comes to how police deal with incidents like break-ins and theft from local businesses. 

"They know full well that if they get picked up they'll be released within 12 hours."

Abram has video footage of the break-in and has handed it over to the police, and says that he recognizes the usual suspects that tend to be involved in these types of crimes in the downtown.

"You get to know who the players are," said Abram. "I'd like to know what the mayor has on tap, and what's going to be done to protect our community."

The slew of property crimes against local businesses have not been limited to those in the city's downtown, as a pair of businesses on the Kingsway have been hit recently.

Trand Kitchens at 555 Kingsway was broken into on Nov. 14 and had a pair of computers stolen from inside of their showroom.

"We've been here for three years and haven't had any issues," said Paul Stewart, manager at Trand Kitchens. 

"The police got here right away, we've got video footage of the person who broke in. Nissan got broken into last week as well. Times are tough, people are getting desperate it seems. They're not going to get any money for what was taken from us because it's all been reported stolen now."

In October, Police Chief Paul Pedersen reported that while violent crime was down 37 per cent in the downtown core, but property crime was up.

The uptick in crime coincided with the curtailment of some services for homeless and marginalized population that frequents the city’s core, all of which is made worse by the opioid crisis.

Mayor Brian Bigger created what he calls a “task team” made up mostly of stakeholders from the police, health care and municipal sectors to try to address some of the concerns of business owners regarding better street lighting, more police presence and garbage collection. The team also is working to ensure adequate services for the vulnerable and marginalized populations that congregate in the downtown core.


Matt Durnan

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