It's about five minutes until 11 p.m. -- closing time at the Kirby Parkway Liquor store -- on August 26th. A young man sporting an Afro and a long-sleeved camouflaged shirt walks in, asking for tequila.
He picks up a bottle and heads to the register. As an employee rings him up, he points a pistol at the cashier's head and screams, "Open the drawer!"
The situation is an increasingly common scenario at local businesses. Through August 31st of this year, business robberies are up 45 percent from last year. Business burglaries are up 29 percent.
"I think there's increased gang involvement surrounding the business robberies," says Lt. Jeffrey Polk, director of the Memphis Police Department's robbery bureau. "Drugs play a heavy factor. We're seeing a lot of males in their 20s."
Polk says some gang-related robberies are part of the gang initiation process used by members of the Vice Lords and the Gangster Disciples. Others provide gangs with money to fuel the drug trade. Polk has even dealt with cases in which the money stolen was intended to bond a fellow gang member out of jail. "It boils down to good old-fashioned greed," says Polk. "To some of these folks, robbery is their job."
Laura Burgess, an employee at the Kirby Parkway Liquor store, says police suspected the robbery at her store may have been part of a gang initiation.
From January through the end of August, 490 local businesses have been robbed, meaning something was taken by the use of force, threats, or intimidation. Another 2,124 businesses have been burglarized, meaning someone has broken into a building with the intent to steal.
Sharonda Hampton, director of MPD's burglary bureau, says her department saw a large spike in crime during the summer months.
"Lately, they've been hitting the pharmacies. That's where the drugs are," says Hampton. "They're also hitting a lot of beauty supply stores."
A few weeks ago, a beauty supply shop in Whitehaven was burgled of $6,000 worth of human hair, as well as $200 from the shop's register.
At Kirby Parkway Liquor store, Burgess says they'll be extra cautious about keeping the doors locked at night.
"It would scare customers away if we installed bullet-proof glass," says Burgess. "Those Germantown housewives wouldn't even come in here."