Independence shops concerned for safety, business amid string of violent incidents

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INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- It's the worst time that a streak of violent incidents could happen.

That's the observation of one store manager at Independence Commons. The shopping center unwittingly makes its home near three sites where unlawful occurrences have occurred in the past month, resulting in police being called in.

Those business operators said they're fearful both for their customers' safety as well as their stores' productivity at the busy holiday shopping season.

The latest violence happened Saturday night when customers at the Ross Dress for Less store heard gunfire.

Police were summoned to the store's parking lot around 9 p.m. One customer at the store told FOX4 that shoppers were taken to a safe, isolated room within the store until the concern outside subsided. Independence Police said no one was injured in that shooting.

Independence Commons is operated by Ohio-based Site Centers. FOX4 reached out to their Cleveland-area headquarters on Monday, but calls were not returned.

Store managers at the shopping center said Saturday's incident isn't unusual.

Two other recent happenings, both of which are within 2 miles of Independence Commons, are also on the minds of those store managers.

On Nov. 9th, police responded to a large fight that happened outside the Main Event Entertainment Center. On Nov. 16th, a family argument at Thai Spice Restaurant turned deadly, as prosecutors say one restaurant worker shot and killed his cousin, a co-worker at the eatery.

"Don't stay away. It is safe here," Mary Willis, store manager at Scrubs and Beyond, said Monday.

Wilson, who said she's worked in the neighborhood of the shopping center for 10 years, said she's comforted seeing more Independence police patrolling at the shopping center since customers take note of the recent crimes.

Wilson said she's noticed an uptick in those visible patrols in the days immediately following each incident.

"It creates a sense of fear in people. It makes them worried for their safety to come out when they hear about robberies in the parking lot, or shootings or kids coming over from the mall and vandalizing things," Willis said.

Just across 39th Street, Rally House continues to sell spirit wear and other collectibles.

Bo Tuttle, the store manager, said customers who don't feel safe outside the store are welcome to ask store employees for help, either with an escort to their car or, perhaps, a call to 911.

"It’s such a joyful time. That’s why we’re super happy, and we don’t want the events that happened a couple of days ago to affect people from coming out," Tuttle said.

Independence Center sits immediately across 39th Street from Independence Commons, and within a short drive from Main Event and Thai Spice. Mall managers sent this statement to FOX4, in regards to the recent violence in the mall's vicinity:

"At Independence Center, we take our visitors' safety and security very seriously. We have professional security on-site year-round and as always we encourage visitors, if you see something, say something. During the holiday season, we have additional security in place and recommend that any gifts, boxes or valuables be secured in your vehicle, out of site. It is our goal that visitors have a fun and enjoyable experience each time they visit."

Fortunately, despite this weekend's occurrence, holiday shopping traffic remains brisk. Retailers often build their entire year's budget and projections around the month of December's profits.

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