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Special Reports

Shopkeepers confront danger, and death, in making a living

A day after his partner was gunned down in their Geneva Avenue grocery store, Antonio Cabral struggled with a decision that confronts more and more inner-city storekeepers: Is it worth it to stay open and risk death?

“Right now my wife said not to open,” said Cabral, standing near the spot in the AMC Market where Manuel Monteiro, 68, his cousin and good friend, was killed by an unknown robber Monday.

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“But it’s my life here. My economic life. I don’t know what I am going to do.”

A day after Monteiro became the third Dorchester shopkeeper since early

December to be shot to death by a would-be robber, store owners and their

families spoke of their fears and the economics that keep them from escaping inner-city violence.

“We’re like targets,” said the brother of one owner.

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“I know it’s dangerous,” said Peter Contreras, who opened up his Caribbean Market on Washington Street near Codman Square only a few months ago. “But I’ve got a big family I have to support, and I have to take the chance.”

A group calling itself the Boston Coalition of Crime Prevention Practitioners said a “crime wave” appeared to be plaguing Geneva Avenue in Dorchester and issued a plea for more police protection.

Some store owners said they were trapped in their businesses. They demanded better police protection. Others said they planned to stay despite the dangers.

The AMC Market has been robbed six times since 1985, Cabral said. But with $185,000 invested in the building and store, shutting down would be devastating. Selling seems impossible.

“We’ve been trying for about a year,” Cabral said. “Some people came by, but money is tight.”

The same dilemma confronts Belgica and Jose Suriel, who have been trying to sell Mr. B’s Variety store on Welles Avenue in Dorchester since a robber nearly shot Jose in February 1993.

The would-be robber put the barrel of his gun in Suriel’s stomach and pulled the trigger, but the gun misfired twice.

Belgica Suriel said her family has $60,000 tied up in the store.

The owner of the Happy Supermarket at Blue Hill and Talbot avenues said he still has nightmares about the robber who pointed a gun at his head in the store two years ago.

“I saw my four kids flash in my head,” said the owner, who refused to give his name. “It stayed with me for months.”

He is thinking about selling in two or three years, but now “I owe money to my creditors. I got kids I have to take care of. A mortgage.”

The store owners said that although they generally make some profit, they are not getting wealthy.

Insurance in the city costs more than other places, they said. Loss from theft is higher, too. The owner of the Happy Supermarket said the expenses are augmented by stiff fines meted out by police for false robbery alarms.

Increasingly, stores in Boston’s inner city have been taken over by immigrants trying to make a stake in this country, the owners said. They cater to neighborhood customers, who pick up fruits, meats and vegetables -- sometimes at high prices -- without having to take a bus or cab. Or they sell to kids who line up for junk food after school.

Like Monteiro, Beauvis Fontaine, 46, was trying to make a mark in this country when he was shot and killed in his St. Joseph’s Market near Codman Square on Christmas Eve.

Jose Lizardo, 34, was gunned down after firing at a would-be robber at his Three Brothers Variety store Dec. 4.

Despite the danger, some business owners said they planned to stay.

Claudette Barrett said her husband, Neville, thought about selling his bakery and barbecue place across from the AMC Market. “But we won’t,” she said. “We can’t let these people run us out of our community.”

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