JJ Alarcon laughed when asked if she feels safe working at a sporting goods store in Country Club Plaza in Kansas City.
Less than two weeks earlier, Alarcon, a floor manager at JD Sports on West 47th Street, said her boss was shot in front of her as she tried to stop someone from walking out the door with stolen merchandise.
Then, over Labor Day weekend, another shooting happened down the street at Shake Shack. Kansas City police said a 14-year-old was shot and injured just after 9 p.m. on September 2. A 15-year-old was taken into custody.
In June, the Plaza Shake Shack closed its indoor service on weekends after 5 p.m. due to problems with rowdy teenagers.
The incidents have reignited conversations about safety at the Plaza, especially after dark and on weekends.
Compared to Kansas City’s other popular entertainment districts, the Plaza area has less crime, according to a blotter from the Kansas City Police Department. Dozens of violent crimes were reported in Westport and Power & Light between Memorial Day and Labor Day, compared to eight in the Plaza shopping district; 18th and Vine had four.
But eight is still too many, according to local store owners and employees.
“People don’t feel safe,” Alarcon said.
Others argue that clear safety protocol and consistent communication are lacking from Plaza’s leadership.
Kansas City Mayor Lucas said discussions are underway to improve law enforcement in and around the Plaza with the help of police and rangers from the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.
“The Plaza is too important to close our eyes to its challenges,” Lucas told The Star.
Taylor Bunch, a spokesperson for the Plaza, declined to comment. The Plaza’s general manager did not respond to a request for comment.
On August 25, about 30 minutes before JD Sports’ closing time at 8 p.m., a man tried to steal an armful of items.
“My boss wasn’t into it because we get this all the time,” Alacron said.
But unlike most other store robberies, this suspect had a gun. And he used it.
As the store manager tried to retrieve the items, the man shot him in the arm, Alarcon said.
Alacron said her company started paying for security at the store. That only lasted a week.
Since then, Alacron said three of the six floor managers there had quit. Their boss isn’t back yet.
Employees say they brought their concerns to Plaza management, but to no avail.
“It sucks. And they don’t do anything about it,” said Alarcon, who has worked at the store since it opened in November. “They act as if nothing happened.”
‘Strengthen their security measures’
When asked how safe she feels in the Plaza, Nycha Sukitti, a manager at Bruú Café Bubble Tea Shop on Central Street, pointed to a bullet embedded in the kitchen wall.
Somewhere around midnight last winter it came through the wall facing the street, causing the teas to fly off the shelf and settle into the plaster.
Sukitti, 31, said the Plaza never informed her. The police did that.
When asked how often she feels in danger, Sukitti replied, “Every Saturday.”
Last month, a group of teenagers started a fistfight outside her store. The police separated them.
Then there are the fights at Shake Shack. But Sukitti said the shooting at JD Sports scared her the most.
She had hoped the Plaza would address this, perhaps by having security talk to each business about safety plans in case something happened again.
A message as simple as: “We are here with you. Don’t worry,’ Sukitti said.
Instead, she said, there was nothing.
“I feel like we’re not all on the same page about how to approach this,” Sukitti said.
Anna Murrow, 24, is a manager at EB and Co., a women-owned and operated jewelry and accessories boutique near JD Sports and Shake Shack.
She said managers and employees of nearby stores formed a kind of neighborhood watch group, calling each other if they saw anyone suspicious.
“I think the Plaza needs to step up its security measures there because we’re all doing everything we can,” Murrow said. “This has been a conversation on the Plaza for so long. When do we stop wanting to talk about it? Action is all that is needed.”
In the five years since the Made In KC Marketplace opened on the Plaza, across the street from Shake Shack, partner Keith Bradley has never heard concerns about evening services. Last week he heard several concerns, both from employees and an applicant.
In light of recent events, he wants better communication from Plaza management, the police, the mayor and the city.
“Better communication across the board and to the general public can go a long way to making people feel safe,” he said.
He has some ideas to improve safety at the Plaza: reopen public restrooms so businesses don’t have to provide that service, and open a small police station where officers can provide a consistent police presence.
“We have to do what we can now so it doesn’t get worse,” Bradley said.