CHICAGO — An employee was sexually assaulted Tuesday night while locking up After-Words new and used bookstore in River North, police said.
A man came into the store at 23 E. Illinois St. about 10:15 p.m. and claimed to have left something inside, said Officer Jose Estrada, a Chicago Police Department spokesman. The man then pulled out a knife and forced the woman to the back of the business, where he sexually assaulted her before fleeing, Estrada said.
R.T. Edwards, who works next door at Jazz Mart Records, said he'd often questioned why the bookstore stayed open until 10 p.m. on weekdays, since "there's no business then, and no foot traffic" on their stretch of Illinois Street after dark.
"It's ridiculous that they're open until 10 [p.m.]," Edwards said. "We don't feel safe working until 9, that was a recent change for us, and we're trying to get those hours changed back. There's no business then."
Edwards said his record store and the adjacent After-Words bookstore typically have two employees work the last shift so no one closes up shop alone. The store reopened at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, its normal start time, but employees declined to comment about the attack.
On its website Wednesday morning, After-Words wrote that the store will be closing at 6:30 p.m. until further notice.
Maralyn Owen, the CAPS beat facilitator for River North and adjacent neighborhoods, said robberies in the area were up last month compared to the number of robberies in previous years.
"There is just an undercurrent happening in this neighborhood," she said after a recent CAPS meeting. "I went for a walk last night, and I just felt creeped out the whole time. I've lived [in River North] for seven years, and I've never felt that way before. I just can't put my finger on it."
Edwards said that in this section of River North, news of the attack didn't entirely surprise him.
"There are some characters down here, definitely," he said, adding that people are often found "sleeping on the concrete risers under Wabash, but since the city put up fences, it's been better."
"But there are a couple of vagrants, some weird people that come here all the time, that we see sleeping on the steps, out of it, or screaming," he said, adding that some hang around the stores so much that staff gives them nicknames.
Police described the suspect as a black man with medium complexion and an afro hair style, 30 to 40 years old, 5-foot-7 to 5-foot-9 in height and weighing 160 to 180 pounds.
No one was in custody Wednesday morning. Signage on the store's window indicates closed-circuit cameras and a security system are in place.
Owen said she's hopeful that crime in River North will level out as temperatures drop and residents become more aware of the need to self-police the area.
"Neighborhoods come and go, and people start doing stuff in one neighborhood, and when the heat gets up they'll move to another neighborhood," she said.
Emily Morris contributed to this report.