Renee DiDio, the owner of SlapBack, a vintage-inspired boutique on Metropolitan Avenue, posted on Facebook that the two men, one of whom was wearing a suit with a Verizon badge, walked into her store and locked her deadbolt from the inside.
They walked up to the counter and told DiDio that Verizon was “making some changes in the area,” she said. The men proceeded to ask her for her account information.
DiDio told them if Verizon was making changes, the company would send her an email. One of the two men responded that he would be “more effective.” When they insisted on having the account information, DiDio told them to leave.
“I cut him off and started yelling,” she said.
DiDio then shared images of the two men on her Facebookpage, thanks to surveillance footage from inside her store.
“The whole point of the post, which all of us would like to do, is keep an eye out for each other,” she said. “You are alone sometimes in your store.
“I think it’s really important that small businesses do support each other,” DiDio added. “If we can let each other know using social media, it’s a really cool thing.”
She said a similar incident happened last month, this time with scammers posing as Labor Department employees. According to DiDio, they hit almost every single business in the area.
“When this happens, it happens so quick. Being a business owner, you’ve dealt with stuff before,” she said. “You just have to keep your wits about it.”
DiDio said she didn’t initially notice the men locking her deadbolt. Luckily, she said, she was with three customers at the time of the incident. One of her customers pointed it out first.
“I believe they were solicitors and they did it to scare me,” she said about the locking of the deadbolt. “I honestly can’t tell you what they were thinking, I don’t know.”
Gabe Fowler, owner of the comic book store Desert Island just down the street, said the same men walked into his shop on the same day. When they entered, Fowler, who was talking to a customer, immediately told them, “No solicitations in here.”
The men turned around and walked out immediately, he said.
“Maybe it’s because I nipped it in the bud and they realized they would run into trouble if they pushed it any further,” he said.
Fowler said solicitors come into his store roughly once a month.
“I don’t know that they’re scammers. I do know that I don’t like any solicitation in my store, no matter what it is,” he said. “If someone comes in with a clipboard and any series of questions for me, I’m not interested.
“I’m here to talk to people about comic books and engage in that culture,” he added. “If anyone’s trying to sell me something or convince me to do anything with my business, that’s not the way to do it, in my opinion.”
When solicitors press on and keep trying to convince him, Fowler said he gets angry and tells them to leave.
“I get pissed off and curse at them and kick them out of here,” he said. “I don’t like being pushed that far. I don’t like being put in a position where I have to say 'no' twice.”
Fowler was one of the many community members who saw the Facebook post and commented. He gave DiDio his phone number and told her to call if something happened.
The comic book store owner said he wants a more connected small business community.
“I rarely talk to any other business owners in the neighborhood ever, but I would like to,” he said. “I’d like to feel like I’m a citizen and participant in the neighborhood.”
When Fowler read that the men had locked SlapBack’s deadbolt, he saw it as “an extreme red flag that would cause me to call 911 immediately.”
As for Desert Island, Fowler said he has a hidden camera and a door that only a key can lock.
“Those are two things that are on my side,” he said. “Anything that goes down in here, it’s documented. Even if someone takes the camera off the wall and destroys it, that’s documented.”