By Joe Johnson
A neighborhood grocery store in east Athens on Christmas Eve was ransacked by burglars who stole cash and merchandise worth tens of thousands of dollars and caused thousands more in damages, according to an Athens-Clarke County police report.
Food Express, which for many years had operated as Bert’s Grocery in the Triangle Plaza shopping center on Nellie B Avenue, was broken into during the early morning hours Tuesday by thieves who forced open a back door and cut wires to the store’s alarm and surveillance camera system prior to looting the business.
The store is located across the street from the Athens-Clarke County Police Department's eastside substation on Fairview Street.
The burglary was reported at 9:47 a.m. Tuesday by a woman who was visiting her cousin on Fairview Street, according to the report. The cousin told police he had heard rumors about the break-in that morning and that a neighbor who lived behind the store had heard several people talking outside in the middle of the night but reportedly did not go out to check.
The Fairview Street man said he did not call police because he did not want to get involved, according to the police report, but after his cousin learned about the incident she went to check for herself and called 911 upon finding the grocery store’s back door open.
The report noted that merchandise was scattered everywhere inside the store, and that light fixtures and wiring fell from the ceiling, probably when thieves cut wires to disable the alarm and camera systems.
The owner, a 33-year-old Bogart resident, arrived on the scene and made a partial inventory of what was stolen.
According to the police report the stolen items included two cash registers and a bank bag that contained a total of $13,000 cash, dozens of cartons of cigarettes and boxes of cigars, lighters, digital scales, shirts and other types of clothing, frozen foods, candy and snacks, lottery tickets, a credit card terminal, laundry items and over-the-counter medications.
The owner was asked to later provide a more detailed list of what was stolen after could take full inventory of his merchandise and property.