Animal Nature may move after store in Regent Square is robbed again

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Animal Nature, a small Regent Square store that specializes in natural pet products and animal feed, was robbed at gunpoint in broad daylight on July 17 for the second time in less than two years.

Now, the store's owners, Nina Wolf and Rachel Lamory, are trying to figure out their next move, whether it's relocating or increasing security, but they say they're not ready to give up on a neighborhood that's been the "loyal, kind, supportive, generous base" of their business.

The first time the store was robbed was Jan. 14, 2011, around 2:30 in the afternoon, Ms. Lamory said. After that, she said, they installed security cameras and started bringing bigger dogs into the store. After that, Ms. Wolf said, they figured they were "disaster proof." They felt like lightning couldn't strike twice. Then, on July 17, a man entered the store, waited for customers to leave, and robbed the store's lone clerk.

"It seems to be an annual event for us, and that's not a good thing," Ms. Wolf said.

The store, which is near the corner of Forbes and Braddock avenues, doesn't face the high-traffic sections of either street. There are restaurants nearby, but Ms. Lamory believes Animal Nature was targeted because it's the only retail store on that corner. Ms. Wolf said she originally opened the store in that area because she's a longtime Regent Square resident and thought the nearby dog parks would draw business.

"I always felt an affinity for the people in the community," she said.

If they opted to relocate, they said they'd likely find a storefront or a house along the pedestrian-heavy sections of Braddock Avenue.

"It might just be a matter of being in a more heavily trafficked area," Ms. Wolf said of preventing future robberies.

Both women said they've considered putting in a buzzer system to permit patrons into the store, but they don't want customers to feel unwelcome.

"I'm not sure that's the route we want to take," Ms. Lamory said. "If you're coming here, you're coming to a friend's house, and I feel like a buzzer would take away from that."

Ms. Wolf noted a buzzer system would "go against who we are."

"We don't want to discriminate against anybody," she said. "How can you look at someone and tell what their intent is?"

Jayme Keeton, 20, the man who robbed the store in January 2011, was arrested within two weeks and pleaded guilty to the charges last July. Sgt. Lavonnie Bickerstaff of the city's robbery squad said police have no suspects and there have been no arrests in the July 17 robbery.

Ms. Wolf said home invasions and robberies aren't uncommon for the Regent Square and Park Place neighborhoods, which technically include parts of Pittsburgh and the boroughs of Wilkinsburg, Edgewood and Swissvale.

Katy Frey, president of the Greater Park Place Neighborhood Association, said the group is encouraging residents to host "porch parties" during National Night Out on Aug. 7, when neighborhoods hold block parties and other events to draw attention to crime.

"We're urging everyone to at least get out on the street," she said. "Take a walk, walk your dog, go sit out on your porch."

She said police and other public safety officers will be stopping by during National Night Out to meet residents so "when you call 911 and someone shows up, that's not the first time you see them."

neigh_city - neigh_east

Annie Siebert: or 412-263-1613. Twitter: @AnnieSiebert.


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