ASPEN HILL – It is definitely not business as usual in the shopping centers surrounding Aspen Hill, where the area’s serial sniper felled three of four Montgomery County victims last week.
“Business is definitely down. You find a mix of people who walk quickly and look around and strollers. I am one to walk quickly,” said Debbie Dudley, 43.
On average, the Hallmark Dudley manages serves about 150 customers a day. However, after a murder at the Mobil gas station just across Connecticut Avenue, the store saw just 69. Monday, the store saw 40-50 patrons.
“I’m probably down $3,000 in a week right now. I mean who would want to come out? If I didn’t have to be here I wouldn’t be,” Dudley said.
A few doors down at the Dress Barn, business also plummeted.
“Saturday was disgusting. We were begging people to come in so we could help them,” said Joyce Molake, 33, the store’s manager who said that the shop usually brings in $6,000 to $7,000 a day. Saturday the store brought in $2,000.
Molake usually sees a bus roll in every day filled with residents of Leisure World, where another shooting victim died Thursday. Now, the bus has stopped coming.
“I haven’t seen those ladies in awhile and I don’t blame them. They used to keep my business alive during the week,” Molake said.
Business spiked to almost normal Sunday, but Monday’s shooting of a 13- year-old boy at a Bowie middle school, emptied the stores again.
One 6-year-old customer of Dino’s Barber and Stylist announced to the shop that he was scared to be there, but his dad made him come to get his hair cut, said one stylist there who would say only that her name was Sokha.
The fear extends beyond the shooting areas. Metropolitan Washington Starbucks pulled in outdoor seating in 50 area stores as a security precaution, according to the Associated Press.
Shopper Diana Melton, 53, has not stopped her daily routine. As she stood in the mini-mart attached to the Mobil where Premkumar Walekar, 54, was shot dead, she said she is more aware of her surroundings, especially if there are wooded areas nearby.
“You know if it’s going to be you, it’s going to be you. You really have no control until they catch him,” she said.
The morning and evening rush of customers is slowly building back to normal, said the manager and owner of the Mobil, Shin Song, 59. However, Song’s normal daytime customers – the homemakers and elderly – haven’t made many appearances lately.
But, Song said he is confident that things will soon return to normal.
“I’m here 18 years. I know most of the people,” he said. “They stop by and say hello to me.”