Northeast Times

Adding insult to injury

For shop own­er Yuzhen Ma, get­ting roughed up while dis­arm­ing a thug was just the start of a troub­ling en­counter.

Yuzhen “Lisa” Ma thought the worst part of get­ting robbed in her Wissi­nom­ing gro­cery store on June 28 was when the gun-tot­ing thug beat her in the head, choked her and tackled her to the ground.

For­tu­nately, the tiny Chinese im­mig­rant and work­ing moth­er was able to wrest the gun away from the hap­less crim­in­al, for­cing him to flee the shop empty-handed.

Then the bills came.

In the days after the failed heist at the Lisa & Charlie Mar­ket, 6017 Tor­res­dale Ave., the Phil­adelphia Fire De­part­ment sent a $1,000 de­mand note to Ma, claim­ing re­im­burse­ment for para­med­ic ser­vice and trans­port­a­tion to a loc­al emer­gency room. Mean­while, Aria Health sent a $5,500 bill to Ma, seek­ing pay­ment for her brief hos­pit­al vis­it.

Ma, who doesn’t have health in­sur­ance, was ex­amined and re­leased from the ER in a mat­ter of hours and did not stay overnight.

If those two debts wer­en’t enough, Ma also found her­self shelling out a couple thou­sand dol­lars to have a safety cu­bicle built around the counter at the front of her store, just in case any oth­er wise guys de­cide to give her a try. She also was vic­tim­ized by an­oth­er thug just two weeks earli­er, on June 14.

All in all, thanks to the hos­pit­al and para­med­ic tabs, she’s been los­ing more money since she be­came an armed-rob­bery vic­tim than she did dur­ing the crime it­self. In fact, she nev­er had $6,500 cash in the store to start with.

And she’s still scared.

“Of course, I am,” said Ma, whose nat­ive tongue is Man­dar­in Chinese. “That’s why I put this (cu­bicle) up. I don’t like this to hap­pen any­more.”

Ma, 43, came to the United States in 1994 and opened the Lisa & Charlie Mar­ket about two years ago with her hus­band. Since then, her hus­band lost his green card and had to leave the coun­try. Now it’s up to her and her 13-year-old son, Jack Ji­ang, to mind the store.

It’s open sev­en days a week, about 12 hours a day in the sum­mer­time. In winter, with the early on­set of dark­ness, Ma closes shop a little earli­er.

Without the gro­cery store, she would have no way of pay­ing her rent in South Phil­adelphia or a mul­ti­tude of oth­er bills, so she keeps the shop. The place sells soda and candy, canned foods, break­fast cer­eal, house sup­plies and even some cloth­ing items that Ma sews to pass the time. She even does on-site cloth­ing al­ter­a­tions for a mod­est fee.

“I want to sell (the busi­ness). I don’t want to stay forever,” she said. “But I have bills every month I have to pay.”

Like many in­de­pend­ent gro­cers around the city, Ma sees a lot of the same people day in and day out — loc­al folks who stop on the way to work for a cup of cof­fee, at lunch­time for a snack, or on the way home for a loaf of bread or car­ton of milk.

A lot of kids stop in too, es­pe­cially when school’s out in the sum­mer. The little ones of­ten show up with a fist full of nick­els and dimes, hop­ing to have enough for a chocol­ate bar or a pack of chew­ing gum. The teens show up too, in­clud­ing a few who don’t par­tic­u­larly care about pay­ing for the bag of chips or can of soda that they take.

“Teen­agers steal soda. It’s just a few times, but they do,” Ma said.

Even though the shop is small, Ma’s video sur­veil­lance sys­tem of­fers no few­er than eight cam­era views of the place, all of which she dis­plays openly to pat­rons on a flat-screen TV. But she gen­er­ally writes off the petty thefts, any­way, fig­ur­ing it’s point­less to call 911 and file a po­lice re­port over a can of soda.

That’s not to say big­ger crimes haven’t happened.

About two months after she opened the store, a man robbed her at gun­point. With help from Ma’s de­scrip­tion of the sus­pect, po­lice iden­ti­fied and cap­tured him.

“The neigh­bor­hood’s crazy,” Ma said. “One time, a cus­tom­er came here, got my car keys and drove my car away. The po­lice helped me get my car back, and (the thief) go to jail.”

More re­cently, a man robbed the store at knife­point on June 14. He first showed up at about 3:15 p.m., Ma said, saw an­oth­er pat­ron in the store and walked out the door.

“He came back in fif­teen minutes. He looked around and saw nobody. He pulled out a knife and asked for all the money,” Ma said.

The store own­er gave up the cash. She’s not sure how much it was. The sus­pect, whom she didn’t re­cog­nize, fled on a black bi­cycle.

“Be­cause he ride a bi­cycle, he prob­ably from the neigh­bor­hood,” Ma said.

She had an even scar­i­er run-in with a fa­mil­i­ar face two weeks later.

“He comes in here for cof­fee, soda and milk,” Ma said of the al­leged June 28 rob­ber. “Some­times, he brings the pa­per and makes cop­ies.

“That day, he asked me ques­tions (like), ‘Are you liv­ing there?’” Ma said, point­ing to the apart­ment above the store.

Days earli­er, the man brought a pair of pants to Ma for her to sew. The al­ter­a­tions were al­most done by June 28, but the man in­dic­ated that he didn’t have money to pay for the job that day.

He asked Ma what time she planned to close the store that even­ing. Ma told him 7:30.

The man re­turned at about 7:10 p.m. — with a gun. He grabbed the storeown­er and de­man­ded money. She screamed.

“I was scared. He told me, ‘It’s not real, the gun.’ But be­ing robbed too many times and (since) I’m a lady, I was scared,” Ma said.

Ma knows she shouldn’t have struggled with the rob­ber, but he had already grabbed her.

“I don’t have a choice. If I’m not fight­ing, maybe he kill me. I’m not think­ing about any­thing,” she said.

As Ma grabbed for the gun, her son dialed 911. Ma fell to the floor but re­fused to re­lease her grip on the weapon. Though di­min­ut­ive, Ma at­trib­utes her sur­pris­ing strength to years of work­ing in the fields and moun­tains of her nat­ive China as a child.

“Since eight years old I’m work­ing. That makes me stronger,” she said.

Soon after re­leas­ing video­tape of the June 28 rob­bery, po­lice ar­res­ted Scott E. Rein­er, 43, of the 7400 block of Lor­etto Ave. He is charged with rob­bery, in­flict­ing ser­i­ous bod­ily in­jury, theft, pos­sess­ing an in­stru­ment of crime, as­sault and reck­less en­dan­ger­ment. He was freed after post­ing 10 per­cent of $15,000 bail and was sched­uled for a pre­lim­in­ary hear­ing on Ju­ly 19. In­form­a­tion from the hear­ing was not avail­able in time for in­clu­sion in this art­icle.

Mean­while, Ma has bruises on her knee and a sore shoulder, and she con­tin­ues to ex­per­i­ence woozy spells.

Last week, a news re­port­er helped her con­tact the North­east Vic­tims Ser­vices, which may be able to help her pay her am­bu­lance and hos­pit­al bills, along with oth­er ex­penses she in­curred as a res­ult of be­ing robbed. ••

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or bkenny@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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