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3 Break-Ins At Unan Imports This Week, But Owner 'Won't Be Discouraged'

By Linze Rice | April 21, 2016 8:44am
 Unan Imports, an African wholesale and retail shop, has been burglarized four times since October, three times in the last week.
Unan Imports Break-In
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ROGERS PARK — For the third time in the last week (and the fourth time since October), Unan Imports on Sheridan Road had a rock thrown through its window and was ransacked — but its owner said he refuses to be discouraged.

"If I say I'm not concerned, I'd be lying," said owner Alphonsas Ntamere, who goes by "Dr. Al" in the neighborhood. "But I'm not going anywhere, I'm here to stay."

Unan wasn't the only Far North Side shop hit recently: Heartland Café on Lunt Avenue had a brick thrown through its window while customers were still at the bar, and Chuckie's Bar on Morse Avenue also had a window smashed in in recent weeks.

In that case, several bottles of booze were taken, Chuckie's manager said. Police would not say whether they believed the crimes were related.

The first Unan Imports incident happened last Sunday when someone threw something through the front window pane at 6971 N. Sheridan Road.

Burglars made off with his cash register, which included checks from wholesale clients and $150 cash.

He boarded up the window and quickly replaced it, but only a week later a different glass pane was broken — twice on the same day — and in the exact same spot. Since October, he's had three cash registers taken.

"It was a bizarre day," Ntamere said. "I don't know, I don't know what to say. It's sad."

The window where on Sunday people entered his store twice, with the final time a business owner across the street calling police. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]

The second break-in happened around 1 a.m. early Sunday, and Ntamere said police came to his house to alert him to the burglary.

The burglar made off with a pile of cloths made of leaves from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, each costing between $250-$500, he said.

Someone had witnessed the break-in and alerted police, Ntamere said.

They were odd items to take, he said — something he believed would be valuable only to someone who understood their cultural and monetary value. In all, he lost just over $2,000, he said.

He boarded up the window, and went back home, he said, but still wasn't "feeling alright" about the situation.

Owner Alphonsas Ntamere, who goes by Dr. Al, points to one of several spots on his floor that has been chipped by a brick or rock thrown through his windows. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]

Ntamere's instinct was right: At around 7 a.m., police were back at his door. Around 6:50 a.m., a witness across the street said he was walking to the beach when he saw a person he recognized as a local homeless man walking up to Unan and then crawling through the broken window from the earlier burglary.

The burglar had dumped out a plastic bin filled with items Ntamere had planned to put on clearance and began filling it with vials of body oils from a giant wooden display near the front counter. Police had caught him in the act. 

On Wednesday, Ntamere displayed a police evidence bag filled with the vials that were found in the man's pockets when they arrested him.

Police arrested Marvin Miller, 40, and charged him with burglary.

The bag of body oils that were found in the burglar's pockets by police. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]

Ntamere said he was happy at least one person was caught, but was told it may or may not be the same burglar behind other incidents.

He and Laura Soncrant, owner of neighboring business The Growling Rabbit (who has also been burglarized), said it was the quick thinking of the "good neighbor" witness who helped police arrest the man from the most recent break-in.


Ntamere, who has been in Rogers Park for 27 years, said in the past his store had a more sensitive security system, so much so that it would often alarm and cause police to come by for non-crime factors — like the wind blowing his buzzer-controlled door open.

Each time, it would cost Ntamere $50 for the accidental alarm, and eventually he said he disconnected much of the system because it became too expensive.

He said he would now return to some of those measures, including adding security cameras, as Soncrant at Growling Rabbit did after her October break-in.

Dr. Al said the last person to break in dumped out a bin filled with clearance items and began to fill it up with small vials of body oils before being caught by police. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]

Ntamere said it was suggested to him to put metal bars on the windows to discourage the break-ins, but he felt it would send the wrong message to the neighborhood.

"It would depress the community," Ntamere said. "I don't want to do that."

He said he hoped whoever was doing the break-ins would stop because they're "disturbing the neighborhood" and more and more of the costs were coming from his pocket.

On Wednesday, customers at Unan paid with cash and rounded up to the dollar — Ntamere hadn't bought a new register yet, and has had three taken since October.

His tiled floor now has multiple scuff marks from where bricks or rocks have landed after flying in through the window.

Still, he said he won't give in to those causing problems.

"I leave everything to God, and I will keep on working hard," Ntamere said. "I won't let it discourage me. Am I concerned about it? Yes. Am I sad it happened? Yes. Am I affected by it? Yes, but I will keep working hard."

Dust from evidence technicians looking for fingerprints could still be seen on the front door of Unan Imports in October. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]

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