Pockets, purses in peril

Light fingered thieves prey on grocery shoppers at local Key Food store


Black Friday might come the day after Thanksgiving, but for grocery stores like Key Food on West 235th Street, one of their busiest days is the one right before Thanksgiving.

Erica Noy was one of those shoppers out that day with a grocery list that included gluten-free bagels, apple cider, eggnog and flowers.

Little did Noy know, she had made the list of a stealthy pickpocket. By the time Noy was ready to pay for her purchases, her wallet was gone.

“When I got to the register, I realized the pocket with my wallet was open and the wallet was gone,” she said.

Noy wasn’t the only victim, police said, as two other thefts were reported at the store as shoppers scrambled to grab last-minute essentials.

One of the other victims was an 88-year-old who later discovered unauthorized charges to her credit card, police said.

Yet, police have little to go on because there’s no security camera footage of the crimes. Not because the thief knew where the cameras were — there aren’t any inside this particular Key Food, as confirmed by managers Dennis Limberis and Vinny Gomez.

Key Food is a cooperative of independent stores throughout the city, with the West 235th location owned by Dan’s Supreme Supermarkets Inc. There are cameras outside — both in front and in back of the store —but it’s unlikely cameras will ever show up inside.

“We don’t have cameras in any of our stores,” said Richard Grobman, president of Dan’s Supreme, in a statement. “We don’t see any need for it, and I can’t tell you the cost, but we do not have a crime problem.”Ira Gross, a vice president of Dan’s Supreme, is aware of the recent pickpocket thefts at the store, but feels it’s not wise to publicly talk about what security measures the store is taking.

“It’s like saying to me, ‘Is our safe digital, or is it manual, and why?’” he said. “We wouldn’t want to publicize our security of what we have, or what we don’t have, or what we will do, or what we plan to do. Asking us to divulge our confidential security plans — it doesn’t seem like a reasonable question.”

But security cameras could have helped cops track down the alleged thief, Noy said, and their presence might make criminals think twice before picking pockets again.

As it stands, however, the description she gave police of the man she suspects took her wallet —about 5-foot-8, slim build, and “looked like he hadn’t shaved in a few days” — matched that of a guy officers spotted on surveillance footage captured at the nearby shopping center at West 225th Street just east of Exterior Street.

“There was nothing suspicious about the way he was dressed,” Noy said. “He looked like a guy who was shopping. But it was his manner, his pattern that caught my eye.”

Just after she realized her wallet was missing, Noy received a fraud alert from American Express asking whether she’d attempted to make a purchase at Target for $497. She hadn’t, and fortunately, the charge was blocked.

While no arrests have been made, police say they’re investigating. In the meantime, the fact this particular Key Food has no cameras when many other stores do perplexes Noy.

“My feeling is that Key Food, being really the only grocery store up here in south Riverdale, should take a little more responsibility in taking care of their customers with better surveillance,” Noy said. “Unless you get in your car, they’re the only game in town for a supermarket.”

Noy also reported a lack of ample lighting in the parking lot, which she said made her feel unsafe in the past when she’s shopped there after dark.

“It’s scary coming in from the parking lot with no lights on the ramp and it’s desolate, nobody can see anything back there,” Noy said.

But Limberis said lights come on as soon as darkness sets in.

“There’s plenty of lighting outside the store, down the ramp, and in the front, and then there’s lighting throughout the parking lot,” Gomez added. Some of the lights are motion sensor-activated, “so it may appear there’s no lighting there, but the second anyone steps in and is picked up by the (sensor), the lights go on.”

The store generally posts signs warning customers to be mindful of their bags, Gomez said. “We always have to be vigilant.”

And in times that doesn’t work, the store should have a way to help police catch those in the act, Noy said.

“If they’re responding with more gluten-free and organic, then you certainly should be responding with the safety of your customers,” she said. “Everybody blames the precinct, saying we need more patrol. But I think as a community, if you have a major store like this, they do have some responsibility.”