When a gun-wielding masked man stepped into his South Union Street store last Sunday night demanding money, Arturo Taveras was ready.
“I crouched behind my counter [and] as soon as I saw him; I jumped behind the [lottery] stand and pointed a gun at his direction,” Taveras said. The would-be robber was spooked and ran from McCann’s Liquors around 10:30 p.m. into the hot, 90-degree night.
Though the masked man remains at large, police and nearby shop owners praised Taveras’s quick thinking.
He said he was not frightened, saying, “When you’re scared, you die early.”
Though the would-be robber fled this time, Taveras was not as lucky two years ago, during another much more violent Sunday night robbery.
On March 6, 2011, two armed robbers entered McCann’s and ambushed Taveras, pistol-whipping him multiple times and tying him up with electrical tape before taking refuge in his upstairs crawlspace. After a four-hour standoff with police, both men were captured and are now serving state prison sentences.
Taveras, a licensed gun owner for more than 50 years, had his gun on his hip during the 2011 robbery, but was overpowered by the robbers as he fired a round of shots. Bending over to show the scars that remain on his balding head, Taveras said, “I do whatever I need to protect myself, to protect the people, and to protect my business.”
Though Taveras and other store owners say that crime has noticeably declined over the past few years, staying protected remains a constant concern.
Ray Davidson, who works at Camilo’s Barber Shop across the street from McCann’s, said that carrying weapons is “not a custom in the Hispanic community here.” He added that he knows only a few shop owners who keep firearms and that there are other kinds of protection to think about: extra camera surveillance, bright storefront lighting, trigger systems that can alert police, or armed guards who can be hired as back-up for late nights and weekends.
Taveras has not changed his security measures — surveillance cameras and gun at his hip — since the 2011 attack. There have been no robbery attempts since — until Sunday. Police are reviewing surveillance footage from the episode.
Lawrence Police Chief John Romero commended Taveras, saying that as a licensed gun owner with a weapon pointed at him, “Taveras acted within the law, [with] every right to protect himself.”
Neighboring shop owners describe Taveras, who has owned McCann’s since 1999, as a well-loved member of the community.
Vinnie Torres, who also works at Camilo’s Barber Shop, recalled that years back, Taveras opened up his store’s private parking lot for customers of all stores on South Union Street to ease crowding. It remains open for public parking today.
Juan Cepeda, the manager of nearby Union Supermarket, said that Taveras has “always been a good man, a good neighbor with good conversation.”
Davidson and Torres said that Taveras did the right thing.
“In our minds, a robber does only two things,” Cepeda said. “He takes the money, or he kills someone. You have to protect yourself first.”
Alyssa A. Botelho can be reached at alyssa.botelho @globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at AlyssaABotelho.