HYDE PARK — The manager of Open Produce was punched in the face when she confronted three boys who robbed the grocery store at gunpoint last week, police said.
“They were teens,” said Becci Behlen, who was punched in the face when she confronted the three boys in the alley behind the grocery store at 1635 E. 55th St. as they tried to get away. “I highly doubt any of them were over 20 and it’s possible they were as young as 15.”
About 10:30 p.m. Jan. 14, the three boys came into the store, and two of them pulled out handguns and demanded the cash in the register from the clerk, according to police reports.
Behlen said she was in the store's basement office at the time and heard the commotion and came upstairs. She said as she put the key in the door to the back room she could hear them talking and hesitated.
“I could tell it was not a good idea to surprise them through the back door,” she said.
Behlen said instead she went out to the alley and around to the front of the store, where she found herself between the three robbers and their pearl Subaru Outback.
She said she confronted them about the small amount of money they were stealing when she saw the store’s box of change in one of the boy’s hands.
“It was an instinct to downplay what was happening and be a little snarky,” Behlen said. “It’s some sort of defense mechanism, I guess.”
Store owner Steven Lucy said the three boys stole $150 from the register and $200 from the change box. He said he was not entirely comfortable with the fact that Behlen chose to confront them.
“Probably not the best idea, but it happened, and they punched her in the face and jumped in the car and drove away,” Lucy said.
Behlen said one of the boys punched her in the right cheek. She said one of the three told the others to shoot her before appearing to change his mind and ordering her to run instead.
She said she backed away and the three boys drove off.
“This is very serious. These guys didn’t care there were customers in the store,” Lucy said.
Behlen said there was one customer in the store when the robbery started and two more came in before it was over. Lucy said the store had 14 customers in the 30 minutes before the robbery.
Both Behlen and Lucy said they believed these incidents were never entirely avoidable, but were rare because would-be robbers were often discouraged from targeting stores where there were customers inside.
Lucy said police responded quickly, and there were more than a dozen officers at the store within five minutes of the robbery.
Behlen said police told her the store should consider the recent changes to Illinois’ laws on carrying concealed guns, which she said she dismissed.
“Three men with guns trump anything I could do,” Behlen said. “This, for me, fuels my need to have our community working toward accountable models that don’t involve violence.”
She said the store would likely change where money was kept so robberies could not become routine. She said that the store would have a staff meeting Monday night to decide how to respond to the incident.
Police said an investigation was ongoing and as of Monday night, no arrests had been made.