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At least 3 Sandalwood small businesses broken into overnight

Surveillance shows hoodie-wearing man smash door of Mike-Cell Oriental Grocery

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There's a neighborhood crime alert in the Sandalwood area on Jacksonville's Southside, where at least three small businesses were broken into overnight.

The break-ins happened sometime between late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning at a shopping center on Atlantic Boulevard and St. Johns Bluff Road, across the street from Jacksonville Executive at Craig Airport.

As of Thursday, police were still looking for the burglar, who went door to door wearing a hoodie and backpack.

The business owners asked the public to take a look at surveillance footage in hopes someone will recognize him. 

One of the businesses that was hit was Mike-Cell Oriental Grocery, where people love to shop for imported and exotic food. 

"Everything from Asia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, China," said Mike Joya, with Mike-Cell Oriental Grocery.

Surveillance video shows a burglar smashing through the front door, and bee-lining toward the register with a flashlight. 

"Watch what he does -- break the glass," Joya said while watching the surveillance video with News4Jax. "(He's) looking for money. He's going underneath the counter to see if there's anything useful, I guess. I don't keep any money there."

Employees left the register open, so the burglar left empty handed. 

But it appears the same person hit the coffee bar next door and, next to that shop, he smashed through the front door of a hookah store.

Gastronome Café was back open hours later, but the hookah shop remained closed as of Thursday afternoon. There's no word on what the crook made off with, but News4Jax found merchandise scattered on the sidewalk nearby.

"It is a family-owned business," Joya said. "It makes me mad, of course. It frustrates me, of course."

The break-ins caused problems for the mom-and-pop operations. It cost Mike-Cell Oriental Grocery hundreds of dollars to replace the glass door, but employees know it could have been worse.

"They target the small businesses, assuming that they may not have surveillance, that it may be easier to burglarize, it may be an easier catch," said Gil Smith, News4Jax crime and safety analyst.

Smith, who is a retired police officer, said the grocery store workers were prepared in this case.

"They did the right thing by leaving the register open. The person who burglarized the business, they may try to pry open the cash register and do damage to it," Smith said. "But it was open, can see right there that there is no cash, and they will move on."

Employees said they hope the burglar is caught before he strikes again.

"I wish everybody would stay far away and they wouldn't burglarize me," Joya said.

According to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office crime map, in the last month, there have been at least four other burglaries and about a dozen car break-ins within two miles of the shopping center. 

Mike-Cell Oriental Grocery employees said this wasn't the first time the store has been hit. They said it's been broken into at least four times in the last 20 years, and the last person who broke in was arrested and is serving time behind bars.


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