Four late-night armed robberies on Grand Cayman have forced local liquor stores to change operating strategies to help protect customers and staff.
“So far, no [staff have] been hurt, God knows it’s terrifying for them,” Tortuga Rum Company President Robert Hamaty said Monday. “[Security] is an additional cost, but what can you do?”
Four Grand Cayman liquor stores have been hit since April 21, including one Tortuga store and one Blackbeard’s liquor store in the Seven Mile Beach shopping district, which is Cayman’s hub for tourism.
Other stores that were robbed include Blackbeard’s in Grand Harbour and the Pop-A-Top store in West Bay.
Police descriptions of suspects in the various cases differ substantially. In the first heist on April 21, a 5-foot-5-inch tall man wielding a machete robbed the Tortuga Liquors store at the Greenery across from the Strand shopping center. Two days later, a machete-toting suspect robbed the Grand Harbour Blackbeard’s store, but he was described as being several inches taller.
A 5-foot-9-inch suspect armed with a gun held up the Pop-A-Top store in West Bay on April 28. A 5-foot-5-inch tall suspect, armed with a handgun, robbed the Blackbeard’s at Cayman Falls shopping center Friday night.
All of the robberies happened between 8:45 p.m. and 10 p.m.
A number of Grand Cayman liquor stores were granted extensions to their operating hours in late 2013, allowing them to remain open until 10 p.m. The closing time for most liquor stores had previously been 7 p.m. By November 2013, about two dozen liquor stores, most of them in George Town and the Seven Mile Beach area, were granted permission for extended hours,
The new hours vary, but most of the stores that applied for the extended hours are now open between from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. or from 10 a.m to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
The Liquor Licensing Board of Grand Cayman’s general policy, prior to 2013, was to allow liquor stores in the district of George Town to stay open until 7 p.m. and for liquor stores in the “outer districts” to stay open until 10 p.m. The historic justification for allowing liquor stores farther from town to stay open later is to cater to commuters who may not arrive home until after 7 p.m.
Liquor Licensing Board Chairman Mitchell Welds said Monday that the recent robberies had gotten the attention of liquor board members, who consider the incidents “quite alarming.”
“The board has always supported maximum security at liquor license premises,” Mr. Welds said. “Any time you have an extension of opening hours, it heightens the risks. The board supports increased security when there are increased hours.”
Matt Bishop, chief executive officer of Cayman Distributors Group which runs Blackbeard’s stores, said that while some extra precautions are needed for night operations, he does not see a correlation between the later opening times and the recent spate of robberies.
“It seems a bit of a stretch to me,” Mr. Bishop said. “The ‘not today bobo’ robbery [at Blackbeard’s in Grand Harbour in 2011] took place in the afternoon.” That incident, which has become something of a Cayman legend, involved two armed robbers who entered the Grand Harbour store and were foiled by local fishermen Charles Ebanks and Edward Azan, who effected a citizen’s arrest after chasing down the suspects outside the store.
Mr. Hamaty said Tortuga stores had also been robbed prior to the extension of operating hours to 10 p.m., and that his company has now placed security guards at all stores that are open past 7 p.m.
Mr. Bishop said Cayman Distributors is currently taking security advice and has made “a number of security changes after the April robbery at Grand Harbour,” including changes to cash handling procedures.
Both men said the number of robberies is of far more concern than local businesses losing a few hundred dollars.
“These robberies are not just a robbery against Blackbeard’s or Tortuga,” Mr. Bishop said. “It’s really a robbery against Cayman. They’re making people fearful and that degrades our quality of life.
“Nobody wants to live in a high-security zone. We need to come together and get on top of it.”
Mr. Welds said the Liquor Licensing Board of Grand Cayman was likely to consider the liquor store security issue at its next meeting, scheduled for June 5.