BAR HARBOR, Maine — The owner of the Town Hill Market is cut and bruised but otherwise unharmed after wrestling with and subduing a man he said entered the store with a gun and demanded money Wednesday morning.
Richard Simis said two shots were fired from the would-be robber’s pistol during the struggle but that no one was shot. After overpowering the man, Simis held him at knife point and flagged down a passing motorist who then called the police.
According to local police, the alleged robber is Chris Stevens, 39, of Millinocket. He has been arrested on a charge of robbery and taken to the Hancock County Jail. Other charges may be pending, police said.
The incident happened around 5:45 a.m. Wednesday as Simis was alone in the market about to open it up for the day. The business owner said he had turned on the store’s ovens and lights and was standing at the cash register when the man came through the back door wearing a mask, hooded sweatshirt, latex gloves, and duct tape over his shoes and around his wrists. The man also had a roll of duct tape in one hand, he said.
Simis said the store gets several deliveries on Wednesday mornings and that he thought for a second that a delivery man was playing a prank. But that thought vanished quickly, he said.
“‘Don’t make me use this. I just want the money,’” Simis said the robber told him. Simis replied that his wife was expected to arrive any minute, but the robber repeated his demand.
Then, when the would-be robber looked away for a split second, Simis charged and grabbed him and they struggled over the pistol. Simis said he reacted after realizing that the man might tie him up and shoot him and then shoot his wife, Lilea Simis, when she arrived.
“I wasn’t going to let that happen,” he said.
Simis said that as they struggled over the weapon, a shot went off, firing away from the two men, before they stumbled into a small back room with a sink.
“I couldn’t bash his head against the sink,” Simis said, explaining that the sink was just out of reach. “That pissed me off.”
The wrestling match continued into another back room with two ovens and a magnetic knife rack on the wall. Simis said that by then he was behind the man, whom he pushed into the wall, making knives clatter to the floor. The gun went off harmlessly a second time. Simis grabbed a knife that remained on the rack and held it to the back of the man’s neck.
“Give me the gun!” Simis says he told the man.
The man relaxed for a second, but then the struggle continued out a nearby door into the parking lot. Simis said he finally got the gun away from the man, whose mask had come off as they fought, and threw the weapon to the side. Still holding the knife while pinning the man to the ground, Simis waved at a couple of motorists driving past on Route 102 until one of them, a regular customer, stopped and called the police. Simis said he stood in the parking lot, clutching the knife in one hand and the man’s collar in the other, until police arrived.
According to Richard and Lilea Simis, who have owned the store for 17 years, Stevens had been a regular customer for the past several weeks at the market, which does a lot of business in sandwiches, coffee, morning snacks and other convenience-type items. He had been friendly toward the store’s staff when he stopped in, telling them he was in town working on a carpentry job, they said.
Richard Simis said he recognized Stevens after subduing him and spoke to him before the police arrived. He claims Stevens told him he has large debts to pay off — something that police say Stevens also told them.
Bar Harbor police said that, in addition to the Class A armed robbery charge, Stevens faces the possibility of being charged with other crimes such as theft of a firearm, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and driving offenses. Class A crimes in Maine are punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.
Stevens also was wanted on three warrants — two for failing to appear in court and one for probation revocation — at the time of Wednesday’s robbery, they said.
Nate Young, Bar Harbor’s police chief, said Stevens is alleged to have taken the gun used in the robbery from an acquaintance who did not give him permission to take it for any purpose. Without going into detail, Young said local police are familiar with Stevens, who has frequented Bar Harbor in recent years.
The police chief said robberies in Bar Harbor are rare, even though Wednesday’s incident was the second in Bar Harbor in the past six months. He said that before that, the most recent robberies he could recall were at a downtown convenience store in the early 1990s and one at a bank on Mount Desert Street in 1986 or 1987.
Young added he is not concerned about robberies becoming a more frequent phenomenon, but added that Bar Harbor is not immune to any type of crime.
As for Simis’ actions, Young said that owners with more emotional and financial investment in a business, and who might have relatives working with them, are more likely than a standard employee to resist robbery attempts. He said it is hard in the heat of the moment to know what is the right thing to do.
“I can understand why he did what he did,” Young said. “All his instincts seemed to have paid off for him.”