Town of Tonawanda officers have been called hundreds of times in recent years to a corner store along the border with Buffalo where a man was found stabbed to death early Saturday, according to police records.
But the owner of the Vulcan Mini Mart said on Monday that his store is not a magnet for crime and it's unfair to link his business to Saturday's fatal stabbing or other recent incidents.
"Nothing ever happened in front of the store," Alex Alhamri told The Buffalo News.
Still, this activity prompted someone to start an online petition urging Tonawanda officials to take action against the mini mart and another nearby store.
Police have not announced any arrests in the fatal stabbing, which happened around 1 a.m. near Vulcan and Tonawanda streets just north of Riverside Park in Tonawanda's Old Town neighborhood.
Police on Monday identified the victim as Mark Bottita, 59, and said they had a good idea of what led to the stabbing but declined to release details about what happened.
Police ask anyone with information to call the department's confidential tip line at 879-6606.
Police Capt. Nicholas Bado, the department's spokesman, said Bottita was a Kenmore resident, but Alhamri said Bottita was a regular customer at the mini mart who lived in a rooming house above a bar down the street.
"He was a sweet guy," said Alhamri, who owns the building that includes the store and upper-level apartments.
Alhamri said Bottita had stopped in the store early Saturday morning to buy some food. Bottita left, only to return about three minutes later, when he opened the door and begged Alhamri to "call the ambulance" before collapsing just outside the shop.
Bottita, Alhamri said, was bleeding profusely from a wound in his neck. Another mini mart employee took off his shirt and tried to use it to stop the bleeding, but to no avail. Alhamri said he believes Bottita was dead before the ambulance arrived.
"We did our best to save him," Alhamri said.
A police statement said the killing occurred "in the area of 90 Vulcan," which is the mini mart's address.
Alhamri said it's unfair to say the stabbing took place outside, or near, his store. He said he believes the victim was stabbed down the street and he staggered back to his shop for assistance.
Alhamri said media coverage of the slaying has hurt his business and driven away customers.
He also said his store isn't responsible for drawing people with ill intent to the neighborhood.
But that's not what the anonymous author of the Change.org petition believes. She said she's a longtime resident and a small business owner in Old Town who is frustrated with the negative effect of the Vulcan Mini Mart and another nearby store on the neighborhood.
She said she called and spoke to Alhamri on Monday and asked him, at the least, to close his store earlier. He said he stays open until at least 1 a.m. to catch workers on the shift change for the nearby GM Tonawanda Engine plant, but he told The News he's willing to adjust his hours.
"Safety comes first," he said.
Town Supervisor Joseph Emminger said he hasn't received any public complaints about the Vulcan Mini Mart but he now may ask the acting police chief to look into the matter.
In response to a request from The Buffalo News, town police on Monday provided a log of 513 calls to 90 Vulcan St. over the past two years.
This included EMS calls, reports of customer trouble and disturbances, trespassing, alleged drug activity and larcenies, among other problems.
But the vast majority of calls were cases where officers went by the mini mart after hours to make sure nothing suspicious was happening there, Bado said.
"That would be a common practice for locations that have previously been the site of damage, break-ins or other unwanted activity," he said in an email. "The volume is just a product of something easy for officers to do to show they were checking on it."