NEW YORK - Wascar Soto owns Lizbeth Supermarket in the Soundview section of the Bronx. He says he faces robberies, a constant threat of violence, and criminals tormenting his business daily.
Soto says he's on the verge of closing.
"The biggest problem is when you catch someone stealing, immediately they want to pull out a weapon," Soto said through a translater.
There are ten thousand bodegas across New York City and in many neighborhoods bodegas are the only supply chain food-wise.
But as shootings have doubled and with the murder rate up 40%, a New York Times analysis of police data shows a 63% increase in shooting incidents inside or in front of bodegas.
Six people have been killed at bodegas and burglaries increased by 222% in 2020.
Fernando Matteo from The United Bodegas of America says hard times are no excuse for crime and the city has gone too soft on criminals.
"It's really created an atmosphere of whoever commits a crime, commits it legally and whoever the victims are, are really the criminals," Matteo says.
He complains that people are not being sent to jail. Matteo says that if someone goes into a bodega with a gun he’s arrested and back out on the street on the very same corner in an hour.
"If you let everyone who goes in to steal $5, if you let them get away with it, you will go out of business," Matteo says. "It's just not the right answer."
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Soto says he has received advice from well-meaning NYPD officers just to let anybody who is stealing something leave and that it’s not worth engaging them. But he says his profit margins are narrow, and if he were to do that, it would put him out of business.
"If things continue the way they are, everyone is going to have to close because they are going to kill everybody," Soto said.
Soto and a host of other bodega owners are calling on the city and the NYPD to crack down on crime before neighborhoods lose essential businesses like bodegas.
The owners say they are in a nickel and dime business and while $5 might not seem like a lot, it means everything to struggling small business owners.