EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Haverhill

January 25, 2008

'I was praying that they don't shoot'; Couple robbed at gunpoint in their convenience store

HAVERHILL - When a robber walked into Richard's Variety and pointed a handgun at Sandra Sarbanis, she asked God for help.



"I was praying that they don't shoot," she said of the robber and another man who was with him. She owns the store near Olympia Square with her husband, Richard Sarbanis.



The robbery happened at 12:55 p.m. yesterday when the couple was working together in the store, which is tucked away behind a sandwich shop at the corner of Winter and Franklin streets. No shots were fired, but the robber and his partner made off with about $60 and a few lottery tickets. It was the fifth time thieves attempted to rob the 145 Winter St. convenience store in 19 years - three times by gun and twice by knife.



The robbery happened as merchants of the square just north of downtown are complaining to city leaders about crime - including drugs and prostitution - and a poor image that plague the area. The square has seven vacant storefronts.



Richard Sarbanis lost his money yesterday but has stopped thieves in the past.



In March of last year, a man walked up to him carrying a box of macaroni and cheese in one hand and a steak knife in the other and tried to rob the store. Sarbanis said he pulled out an even bigger knife and the man ran from the store. In 2006, Sarbanis was robbed at gunpoint - but following a foot chase, Sarbanis nabbed the thief.



His wife said yesterday was the first time anyone ever pointed a gun at her, and it gave her a scare.



"You know what was going through my mind?" Sandra Sarbanis said. "Give them the money and get them out as soon as we can."



Yesterday's robbery happened quickly, the couple said.



They said two men came into the small store and one walked around the counter, showing his gun and demanding money.



Richard Sarbanis gave them all the cash and they took a few lottery tickets, then they ran from the store while the shaken store owners called police. Richard Sarbanis went outside to track the thieves and even drove around the neighborhood looking for them, but was unsuccessful, he said.



Police Sgt. John Arahovites said police are still looking for the robbers, who were wearing hooded sweat shirts and appeared to be in their 30s.



There have been several store robberies in Haverhill this month.



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