When two masked men walked inside a Kentwood corner store brandishing a machete and pepper spray around 8 a.m. on Dec. 5, Louise Gallant froze behind the till.
The men demanded cash and cigarettes.
“I didn’t know what to do. I thought I was in a movie. I don’t know,” said Gallant.
The 58-year-old, who has worked at Running on Empty for eight years resisted at first. She caved when they told her they would spray her if she didn’t obey.
It only took a few minutes for the two to grab what they wanted and go.
But the experience still lingers on Gallant’s mind.
Robberies at local shops, stores, pubs and other businesses in Red Deer are becoming more frequent in recent years leaving victims with nightmares, and business owners with worries about the future.
“I am jumpier with noises — I turn my head,” said Gallant, explaining she doesn’t like to be alone anymore.
Vanessa McCroy, operations manager at Running on Empty on Kent Street, said the store has been robbed at least once a year for the last few years.
McCroy, who also manages two other Running on Empty stores in Red Deer, said they have both been robbed in the past year. An armed robbery took place at the store on 76 Street, while another attempted armed robbery took place at the store on 50 Avenue.
Both of those robberies took place at nighttime and she has lost both employees due to the incidents.
“They wanted to come back to work but they just couldn’t,” said McCroy.
She said the incident on Dec. 5 was the first one in broad daylight with customers walking in and out of the store and people just outside — in the parking lot.
Running on Empty isn’t the only business that was robbed in broad daylight this past year.
East 40th Pub on 40 Avenue, has been open for about 30 years. In the past year, it was robbed twice — which is a first for the Red Deer business.
On Dec. 28, 2016, two men wielding a shotgun and a screwdriver entered the pub while there were about 40 people inside. Tari Klein, general manager at East 40th Pub said the two suspects told everyone to get on the ground. Then the man with the screwdriver demanded cash while the other stood watch with the shotgun.
In the more recent incident on Sept. 30, two men wearing masks entered the pub wielding long barrel firearms at 2:15 a.m when two staff members were on call just before closing time.
Klein wasn’t around when the Sept. 30 robbery took place but she has seen the security camera footage a number of times.
“It’s scary when you’re held at gunpoint and you’re at their mercy so you just have to do what they ask you to do,” said Klein, who manages a team of 20 employees.
She remembers a scared, upset employee on the line — crying as she explained what had just happened.
“I was scared for my employees,” said Klein, who arrived at the pub before the police did.
The employee who was working the floor that night is in her twenties.
“She said to us ‘he knows who I am but I have no idea who he is’ and that is scary to her,” said Klein remembering one of the things that her employee had told her after the robbery.
The employee who was behind the bar during the first robbery in December 2016 was shaken up and had nightmares for a long time, said Klein.
“She was even pushed around by one of the robbers,” said Klein.
As for why the pub was robbed this past year, she points to the economy and unemployment in Central Alberta.
Although, East 40th Pub hasn’t lost any staff members over the two incidents, Klein said she and her staff are left with the fear of what if it happens again.
Klein said she doesn’t believe her staff has gotten over the incidents.
That might just be true for Gallant, who said she hopes to get past the incident.
“It will always be there,” said Gallant.
Red Deer RCMP Const. Holly Erb program manager with Victim Services Unit in Red Deer said how each victim deals with a traumatic experience depends on their resiliency.
She said they can be physically ill, with emotional or mental health issues from being scared or having PTSD type symptoms like having nightmares or flashbacks.
“It could be something they could experience for the rest of their life from depression or anxiety or they may not trust others based on what they have gone through,” said Erb.
McCroy said the incident has changed her employee.
“She is getting better but definitely a changed person because of this,” McCroy said.
In an attempt to aid her employees with best security measures, McCroy has ensured there is a panic button at the till, security cameras in every corner of the stores and lots and lots of lights. She has also installed magnetic locks that staff can control from the till.
“Our staff is like family, when they are hurt and they are scared — we are too,” said McCroy, holding back tears.
She explained that she instructs her staff to give the thieves whatever they want and protect themselves.
“It’s money, its a business transaction — it means nothing. You matter and your life is worth more than anything,” she said.
Those who do not receive support are more likely to be victimized again because they become more vulnerable, said Erb. They may also deal with addictions issues.
Victim Services Unit provides immediate assistance to victims of crime and refer them to counselling and other resources they may need like financial assistance. Erb said almost 95 per cent of the clients get referred to other agencies to provide them long-term supports.
If you or someone you know is a victim of crime, contact the Red Deer Victim Services at 403-406-2345 or firstname.lastname@example.org.