Businesses that are fronts for crime

A common trope in shows like The Sopranos or The Wire is that there are businesses (a butcher, a greek restaurant) which are owned by some criminal organization, and where many of their meetings and discussions take place. Is this at all reflected in reality? Have you ever randomly wandered into a restaurant or butcher shop or something and then had the sneaking suspicion that this was such a place? Or was there such a place in your neighborhood that everyone knew about?

There was a small mini-mart near where I used to work that had very little food on the shelves, never any customers, and was inexplicably open for many years despite this. I went in once to buy some cheese, and they had two tiny blocks of it on an otherwise empty shelf, and three shady looking Italian employees having whispered conversations.

I wonder if it’s still there.

I still wonder about the church across the street from me. No cars are ever in the parking lot! Not on Saturday, not on Wednesday night, not even on Sunday freakin’ morning! Even on Easter Sunday, when their website advertised an Easter service, there was no one, absolutely no one, in the parking lot. I’m sure there’s something shady.

Yes. Some years ago, the old man and I stopped in a place in our neighborhood (in Korea Town, Los Angeles) because we wanted some junk food and they were watching the shit out of us. We initially ignored this, suspecting was because we weren’t Korean, but then it got weirder and that explanation stopped making sense pretty quickly. 1) We lived in those parts and were never given such a thorough twice over before. 2) We quickly discovered pretty much everything on the shelves was some combination of expired, useless/visibly broken, and covered in dust, having never been touched at any point during the last century (…the hell?). 3) Before we could even properly register our WTFs, we were asked to leave. Asked to leave a store that we were theoretically going to buy shit from, but of course in practice couldn’t (or wouldn’t) because nothing in the store was actually buyable.

Yeah, some shit was going down. We didn’t ask what, and just never went back.

About 20 years back a bait shop opened up not far from me, and since I fished quite a bit at the time, I had to go check it out. That there was no fishable water for 20 miles though, so I really should have taken the hint. Don’t remember what I saw in there, but it didn’t have much bait-shop merchandise, not even bait. A few months later, the police arrested some folks and it closed. Think it had to do with gambling, or slot machines, or both.

appleciders: vampires.
MeanOldLady: maybe you’re right, although that scene makes me think of Menace II Society, or more ridiculously, Don’t Be a Menace…
My dad makes tale of going into a Russian restaurant once, and being made to feel very unwelcome. Along the lines of them saying brusquely, “is closed now!” despite there being many be-suited Russian men inside.

There was a Salvadoran restaurant in my neighborhood in DC a few years back. At first, the food was pretty good, but the quality got worse and the customers got scarier. One day there was a shoot out in front of it. Not long after that, an undercover cop bought coke there and it was raided. It had become a drug operation front. The owner went away and you can still see tables set inside.

Off Hwy 70, a little west of where it meets Hwy 54 in Alamogordo, there is a building sporting a big red square with a diagonal white stripe. “Scuba Diving Instruction”, it says. Alamogordo is in an area called Jornada del Muerte, because people died of thirst trying to cross the arid basin. The nearest body of water one could possibly dive in is two hours away, near Truth Or Consequences. I always thought it was just absurd, never considered the possibility of nefarious activity, but otoh, our experiences in that town have been a bit weird.

This thread reminded me of the late Raymond Patriarca (one-time head of the New England Mob). He owned a business (“Coin-O-Matic Vending”), which serviced vending machines. The “business” was largely a front-it lost money, even though he would stock the machines with expired candy bars, salvaged stock, etc. The firm’s trucks were used to transport stolen goods, and the firm also was used to launder money.

You know… there is a little burger place near where I live… now I really think it’s just a floundering business owned by a husband and wife with no other employees.

But I drive by it all the time, I never see anyone there! And I went in and ate there once… it was very creepy.

I wonder how that guy is supporting himself and his business year after year with essentially no sales. He’s gotta be doing something else or just have a big pile of money and is just running the restaurant for fun.

Growing up, my (somewhat sketchy) neighborhood acquired a convenience store. It was on a back street, a block away from a very nice 7-11. The store had almost no stock, just a few dusty sponges and old candy bars on the nearly empty shelves. What they did have was ice cream, which they sold for 25 cents (very cheap at the time) by the gigantic scoop.

Even as a kid, I recognized it was a drug front. But, it did keep me in the ice cream.

I don’t know if you would call them fronts as they were legitimate businesses, but a lot of hotels used to have SP bookmakers operating in them every Saturday.

Similarly, a well known hotel in Brisbane did a very good trade out of also housing a brothel. The client would purchase a packet of Rothmans cigarettes in which a room number was written and present the packet to the lady in the specific room.

I can’t think of any personal experiences offhand, but I knew a woman who got a job at a newly opened “florist’s shop”. It was in a location that had no foot traffic (it might have been suitable for something like a barber shop or dog groomer) and had a couple of houseplants on the shelf. She worked there for about a week, and they never got any orders, so she quit. I don’t remember if she was ever paid, either.

In the ten years I went with a cop, I was aware of two stores that the police closed because they were drug fronts: a CD store and an ice cream place. I bought a lot of (very cheap) merchandise at both places, and never once was I offered any dope.

Oriental Massage parlors keep opening up around here, and to everyone’s utter shock and surprise they offer more than massages.

There are AT LEAST seven or eight Oriental rug stores within a mile of my condo building. I never see anybody shopping in them. I can’t think of any explanation other than them being part of a crime syndicate.

That sounds more like a building owned by someone with a weird sense of humor. After all, a “front” has to be somewhat plausible, if it’s filing tax returns and trying to appear legitimate.

Years back (late sixties or very early seventies) there was a candy store in the neighborhood in Queens, NYC, in which I grew up. It was your typical candy store of the time. They sold (ostensibly) candy and cigarettes, and there was a small (maybe three or four stools) soda fountain counter. But the stools and counter were always piled high with boxes and junk, and the soda fountains looked like they’d been dry for years. The owner was always there, and he would sell you a bottled soda or a newspaper or a candy bar, or a pack of smokes, if you were an adult, but it always seemed like there were a lot of adult men hanging around without buying anything (except maybe the Racing Form).

Later, when I was a bit older, I came to understand that it was a betting shop, and it took bets on the horses, and also the number. And that everyone in the neighborhood knew this.

It’s not there anymore – that whole block of stores has been rebuilt since I was a kid, and it’s long gone. But it was definitely a front.

Might it be a bar? Some people do have an unusual sense of humor.

The vast number of nail salons, mostly run by Vietnamese women in mid-line strip malls, cannot possibly be profitable, especially in areas where there are multiples of them per mile.

ETA: I wonder what number of them are NOT named “Lee/Li/Ly’s Nails.” It must be under 25%.

The pub that’s a few doors from my house certainly appears to be some kind of a front. I actually thought it was closed for months when I first moved in- but then I actually saw the door open, and realised it really did look kind of like a pub inside… Sort of. Then they had the sign repainted.

It’s almost always shut, and the same guy is almost always parked outside, in the same 4x4, and he’s got some kind of intercom thing that he doesn’t like people seeing him talking into. It’s really freaking hard not to be nosy about the place, but it’s a dodgy area, it it really doesn’t seem like a good idea.