Gunfire erupts at East Harlem smoke shop in apparent robbery

Police are investigating a robbery at the Essex Convenience Smoke Shop in East Harlem. 

Tariq Nieves, 22, described what was going through his mind as two men held up his friend's shop Saturday night.

"I made it to the back room and locked it because I was like; this guy has a gun and a knife, and I was like, it's over at this point. "

Nieves said he was just grateful he survived, what could have been a deadly night.

"They acted like they were just normal customers and then one of them just pulled a gun out and he pointed it at me all the way back there. It was like a silver revolver," Nieves told FOX 5. 

Nieves said he was hanging out at his friends’ store on 116 Street in East Harlem when two men walked in and tried robbing the place around 11:15p.m. The men, according to Nieves, pulled him out of the back room of the store, hit him in the head with the gun.

Then, police said, the store clerk jumped in and starting wrestling for the gun but was shot in the groin. The 34-year-old clerk is still recovering in Harlem Hospital.

The two suspects quickly took off, and dropped the cash they had managed to take – about $300 – before cops got to the scene.

The store manager said there’s a big misconception with convenience and smoke shops. He said they’re often targets for quick cash grabs, but in reality, they don’t hold onto that much money, and when night rolls around, that misconception can become dangerous.

"It’s New York City. It’s Gotham City here without Batman. We really don’t have safety at night," the manager explained to FOX 5.

For some who live in this neighborhood, they said the ever-increasing presence of these shops really doesn’t bother them that much.

As for the manager, he said he wants other store owners to consider ways to protect themselves. He told FOX 5 his next move is to install a panic button as soon as possible. Moving forward, he said, he won't let anyone into the store who is covering their face with a mask or hood. 

"I personally feel like, if you don’t know the customers by today don’t let them in the store. I mean you’re not missing much, $5, $10? Your life is worth more than that."