By Jeff Mays and Patrick Hedlund
MANHATTAN — A Harlem liquor store that removed its bulletproof glass after neighbors complained it looked "ghetto" was broken into twice in less than a week by a group of thieves who made off with cash and alcohol, police said.
Freeland Liquor & Wine, at 183 Lenox Ave., was hit about 1 a.m. on March 17, when two men cut the security gate and entered the store, swiping bottles of liquor and cash, the NYPD said.
Then, on Thurs., March 22, three male suspects again busted through the security gate, making off with even more booze and money, police said.
The store, which opened in late 2011, outraged locals who saw its neon sign, riot gates and bulletproof plexiglas intended to encase the alcohol as an "abomination." The store owner, under pressure from the community, opted to remove the glass cases and sign before its opening.
"If I had the other gate [in], this wouldn't have happened," said Berihu Mesfin, referring to the riot gates that drew the ire of locals who said the store appeared "ghetto."
"I put [in] the chain gates and they cut it. I put the chain gate again and they cut it," he explained. "Now I'll put [in] the metal gates."
Mesfin said the burglars stole more than $4,000 from the cash register, as well as 180 bottles of expensive liquor, including Ciroc, Hennessy, Patron and Remy Martin. He noted that the second break-in netted the thieves eight large bottles of high-priced booze and a case of expensive wine.
The owner shared surveillance video from the burglaries that shows the suspects hopping the store's counter and stuffing their pockets with cash.
The first suspect involved in both burglaries is described as standing 5-foot-7, with a light complexion and wearing a black ski mask, light-colored sweatshirt and light-colored pants, police said.
The second suspect involved in both incidents is described as standing 5-foot-9 with a dark complexion and mustache, wearing a light-colored hooded sweatshirt, dark-colored jeans and a baseball hat, police said.
The third suspect, who was only involved in the second burglary, is described as standing 5-foot-10 with a light complexion, wearing a light-colored ski mask, light-colored hooded sweatshirt and light-colored jeans.
Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477).