Like seven other stores on the block, the First Virginia Bank in Arlington's Shirlington shopping center shut its doors tight this week, but for a different reason than its neighbors.
The other businesses moved out more than a year ago, soaping their windows and tearing down their signs in anticipation of the $250 million remodeling of the South Arlington shopping center, located just a few hundred feet from Rte. I-395.
In the small branch bank this week, however, a handful of employes packed boxes and told former customers the bank was closed, shouting through the same thick glass door two men entered last Friday morning in an armed robbery that ended with the death of a customer.
Arlington homicide detectives said yesterday they have "a lot of names, but nothing promising" in their hunt for the killers of Robert Jennings Jr., a 62-year-old District resident who was shot in the head and stomach when he resisted the robbers' demand for money.
Jennings, a church deacon and the father of seven, had just returned to his job as a foreman for a South Arlington construction company after months of cancer treatment, and had gone to the nearby bank to cash his paycheck.
It was the fourth time in three months that the bank at 2776 S. Randolph St. had been robbed. Within hours of last Friday's slaying, First Virginia officials decided to close the bank until the new shopping center opens in mid-1986 because "a major concern was the safety of customers and employes," branch manager Tim Leukins said.
The bank had been scheduled to stay open during the renovations and to relocate later to a new site in the center.
Shirley C. Beavers, executive vice president for First Virginia's branch banks, said yesterday, "We felt that in light of the unfortunate recent circumstances and in view of the fact that pedestrian and retail traffic had fallen off, [staying open] did not warrant the additional risk for the customers and employes."
Speaking from behind the bank's glass door yesterday, an employe who said she had been working during some of those robberies, remarked, "I've asked to be transferred to a [bank] job where I won't have to come in contact with the public."
The Shirlington robberies -- on Aug. 14 and 28, Sept. 13 and Nov. 22 -- also have upset some customers and employes at the few stores still open in the 41-year-old shopping center.
"I never go into a bank or store anymore without looking in the window," said shopper Betty From. "I think every store in this place has been robbed in the past five years."
"All the banks around here are getting too dangerous for us," said R.E. Lane, who was shopping with his wife at the Best Products Co. store yesterday. "We just stay in our cars and make our transactions at the drive-in window."
"I'll be glad when we get the new shopping center," said Sharon Cooper, an employe of Shirlington Dry Cleaners, which was robbed last year. "I think people are scared to come around here because of the robberies and because it's so isolated."
Terry Dwan, another employe there, said, "There is a concern . . . I'm concerned about walking home at night. Now I think I'll be taking a bus."
The merchants are meeting with representatives from the Oliver T. Carr Co., which is redeveloping the shopping center, to discuss increased security measures.
Countywide, police are stepping up their surveillance of potential robbery targets, said Police Chief William K. Stover, who keeps charts in his office of robberies and burglaries.
Police records indicate that in all area jurisdictions, robberies increase during the Christmas season and continue into January.
Police statistics show there were 20 armed robberies of banks in Arlington from January through last month, compared with 12 in the same period last year; as of yesterday, there have been two bank robberies in November.
"We intend not only to deter [robbers], but to apprehend them," Stover said, declining to discuss additional police protection tactics planned for the growing number of banks and other lending institutions in the county.
Police Lt. Gregory Brewer said banks near Metro subway stops and interstate highways are favorite targets of robbers: "Anytime you can commit a crime in one jurisdiction and flee to another, it makes it more attractive to robbers."
Brewer said a number of factors may have contributed to the rash of robberies at the Shirlington bank in recent months, including the facility's proximity to I-395 and the fact that the area "is lightly populated because of the construction, which makes it an easier target for holdup men."
Lawrence B. Burrows, Shirlington project manager for the Carr Co., said the firm is trying to "get our project up as soon as possible so we can get people in there."
The company is "looking at other elements of security" until the 60-store shopping complex is built. It may be completed by next summer.
The shopping center is only one segment of the 25-acre Carr project, which also will include six office buildings, two residential buildings and a seven-theater movie house.
The project, to be known as The Village at Shirlington, is to be built in five phases over about 10 years, Burrows said.
The First Virginia Bank has offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Jennings' killers.
Police believe Jennings' killers fled the bank last Friday morning in a mid-1970s blue Lincoln Continental Mark IV with oval-shaped opera windows.