In the 18 years that Mike Borich's father ran the Landmark Mobil service station on Alexandria's Duke Street before his son took over, he was robbed just once. In the two years that the younger Borich operated it, he was robbed three times.
But in the year since Mike's wife, Jean Larson, took over, the all-night gas station, located right next to the High's store that was robbed yesterday, resulting in the fatal shooting of a suspect and the wounding of two policemen, has been held up four times.
"I guess you'd just have to say that it's becoming a trend around here," says Larson. "And I don't like it one bit."
Larson runs one of five businesses -- two service stations, the High's, a 7-Eleven and a Pizza Hut -- that are clustered around the intersection of Duke and South Reynolds streets near the Landmark Shopping Center. Three of them have been robbed in the last year -- all at gunpoint and none fewer than two times.
No employe has been hurt yet, but the prospect of being shot in a robbery has everyone who works there nervous.
"A couple of nights, I've been tempted to lock the door because some strange men have been hanging around outside," says Christine Newsuan, assistant manager of the Pizza Hut across Reynolds from Larson's Mobil station. Her pizza shop has been held up twice in the last three or four months, she says. "I'm scared to death."
"We've just been lucky. We haven't been hit yet," says Ricky McGaskey, manager of the 7-Eleven next door. "But I make all our employes be extra careful. You never know who's come into the store just to check out the place so they can come back later and rob you."
The stores' location -- alongside a major thoroughfare and in the midst of a changing neighborhood -- contributes to the frequency of the hit-and-run robberies, say those who work there.
"Some of these apartments around here have the walls all knocked out," says Larson. "You can't live in them."
"We're sort of tucked away back here," says Newsuan of the Pizza Hut's location behind the 7-Eleven and an ARCO station on the corner. "They won't rob the places right out front. But they'll rob our place or the High's because it's tucked away, too."
Newsuan was working during one robbery at the Pizza Hut. "This man walked in with two others and walked right into the back of the kitchen," she says. "I looked at the other assistant manager and said, 'Who was that?' He moved his lips, mouthing, 'We're being robbed.' " All three robbers had handguns, says Newsuan, who was so terrified at the time that her knees were knocking.
"Right after the last robbery at the High's," recalls Larson, "I told the High's manager , 'Go back and get a beer and you'll feel fine.' He said, 'I don't drink beer.' I said, 'Get one anyway. There's nothing else you can do.' "