Schenectady County

Fed up with crime, store owners want out

They filled the back doorway with cement, nailed down the windows and installed iron bars, but still

They filled the back doorway with cement, nailed down the windows and installed iron bars, but still the burglars kept coming.

Now, after eight burglaries in three years, the Khemraj family is giving up. They’ve placed their Albany Street building on the market, signed a lease for a new storefront in Brooklyn and plan to move back to New York City as soon as they’ve sold the last of their stock.

“It’s not safe here,” said Donald Khemraj.

The last straw came Thursday morning, when Funn Electronics and Keys World were burglarized yet again. The burglars started in the back, where they scaled two fences and tried to pull away the plywood that now covers the back window and door.

That was a dead-end: Khemraj filled in both spaces with cement after earlier burglaries.

So the burglars ripped open a side door, hoping it would lead into the store. It doesn’t.

Next, they tried to break in through one of the remaining windows on the first floor. The glass was easy to break, but the window was too high up for an easy entrance. The burglars were undeterred.

They snuck up the back steps to the Khemrajs’ porch, stole a chair, and used it to climb in the Keys World store window. As an alarm blared, they grabbed clothing, gold chain necklaces and a laptop. They got away with about $3,500 in goods before Khemraj raced down the stairs to confront them.

For Keys World manager Kevin Hawkins, it was the start of just another day. Business went on as usual while his godson came over to fix the window yet again.

This time he cemented iron bars into the window space. The metal lattice that he installed last time clearly wasn’t strong enough to withstand a crowbar.

Khemraj, who owns the building and runs Funn Electronics, is at the end of his rope. He’s tried everything that the city will legally let him do, he said, and burglars get around all of it.

They went through his back window the first time, costing him $1,500 in repairs. He covered the glass with plywood, but they ripped it off.

He put it back on with screws. They went through that, too.

Then he got his first victory. He grinned sardonically as he described the next burglary attempt.

“They tried to use a screwgun to take it [the plywood] out,” he said. “But I damaged the end of every screw. Every one of them, I went with the drill bit until they were ruined.”

Unfortunately, the burglars didn’t give up. They went through his back door again and again, despite the plywood that he hung there. Finally he filled in the doorway with cement, but left the plywood on the outside, leaving the burglars to discover the cement on their own.

That forced the burglars around to the front of the building, a riskier proposition, but they continued to break in despite the greater chance of being seen.

He put in cameras and an alarm system. He reinforced the windows with metal strips.

Nothing has worked.

“It’s like a war,” Hawkins said.

And the store owners are losing.

“Whenever we sell what we have here, we’re gone,” said Funn Electronics co-owner Rose Khemraj. “Seven times we replace the glass on the door and the window. It’s $1,400, $1,500 each time. How much can you pay? We need to eat!”

The Police Department confirmed the number of break-ins at the store.

Rose Khemraj said she has repeatedly asked the city for permission to install a metal gate in front of her business. The gate would cover the entrances and windows whenever the businesses are closed. Many stores in New York City use the device to thwart burglars, and she swears by its efficacy.

“In Brooklyn we had two other businesses. Never burglarized in 12 years, never been broken into, because you had gates you pull up and down. Nobody could get into the building,” she said.

The gates are not allowed in Schenectady, primarily because of aesthetics. But Khemraj said the city’s decision will lead to buildings that look even worse: vacant, dilapidated and abandoned.

She angrily predicted that the city would rather have empty stores than a gate that acknowledges rampant crime.

“The city doesn’t want legal business,” she said. “They want everybody to get government payments and sit at home.”

The mayor’s office did not immediately return telephone calls from the newspaper for comment.

Donald Khemraj was so fed up with the situation last year that he bought a gun to fight off the burglars. In October, he shot one invader in the chest. The man survived, pleaded guilty to burglary and was sentenced to a year in jail. A grand jury cleared Khemraj of any wrongdoing.

They don’t think they’re being targeted because of their ethnicity (they are Guyanese) or the shooting. They believe their building is attractive to criminals because some of their goods — cellphones and gold chains — can easily be sold on the street.

“I think that’s a quick turnover,” Rose Khemraj said.

Her family decided to buy in Schenectady in 2000, after a lease-to-own deal in Brooklyn fell through. Schenectady seemed like a good city and they could afford to buy here, Khemraj said. They moved in 2002.

Although they are now about to move back to Brooklyn, Khemraj said she’d still rather stay here.

“If we could have gates, I would stay. Of course I would stay. I want to stay,” she said. “We have to have gates. Tell me, how else can you protect your property?”

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