Businesses you suspect of being fronts?

There is (at least for now) a Mexican restaurant in Lafayette called El Charro. The place has been in business for a few years, yet rarely seems to have any customers. I’ve often stated my opinion that its major stock in trade was a concoction not listed on the menu, and my suspicions now appear to have been confirmed. (In case the link has expired by the time you read this, the owner and one of his employees were busted for dealing thousands of dollars worth of imported methamphetamine. The attached photo illustrates the fact that to describe El Charro as a “hole in the wall” is to praise it much too effusively.)

Upon reading the article, I was reminded of this thread. Since that discussion took place four years ago, the SDMB has added many members, and some of the veterans must have noticed dodgy enterprises springing up. Tell me about some of these shady emporia that have caught your eye.

There are a couple of businesses down my way that make me think they’re there just to launder Asian drug lord money.

There are two shops down the high street selling really expensive light fittings: chandeliers, wall units, floor lights…but mostly chandeliers. Their shops are next to each other and they’ve been in business for at least 20 years, if not more. I have never, ever seen anyone go in there. And yet they open every day, 9am-6pm except on Sundays and public holidays. How can two competing shops selling very expensive chandeliers right next to each other stay in business for more than 20 years on a high street that has seen countless restaurants, shoe shops, electronic specialists and other businesses close over the years?

About two miles down from the chandelier shops is the “bank zone”. There are about 6-7 banks in one small area offering loans at low, low interest rates. But nestled among those sharks is a small shop selling party stuff. Y’know, balloons, party hats, confetti, clown makeup etc etc. Same story: they’ve been there forever and again I’ve never seen anyone go in there. Ever. These guys open late and close late, though. Around noon till midnight. And they open every day even on Sundays and holidays and since they’re in the “bank zone”, it’s a ghost town on Sundays and public holidays. Yet, there they are…open for business selling party stuff from noon till midnight even though no adult or child has ever been seen entering or exiting that establishment.

I do believe that the party stuff shop and the expensive chandelier guys are laundering money for their mob bosses. Or maybe they’re filming porn in the back room, I don’t know.

I’ve always wondered about the place where I get my breakfast burritos. And I’ve always hoped that whatever they’re doing, they don’t get caught. They make damn fine breakfast burritos.

Massage parlors.
Barbershops with huge back rooms that people go in and out of.
Bong “cigarette & tobaccana” shops

One of my friends lives across town above a carry-out. I worked at a different carry-out several miles away, and my boss knew the old owner of the one hooked onto the apartment. I guess it used to be nice, but now there are never customers there, just the same 5 kids inside and they have extremely old product on the shelves. Sure, they sell a bit of beer and cigs, but not any groceries or anything - and I don’t think they do enough business to make decent money. The new owners have been arrested several times on drug charges before they bought the store, and lately there have been more druggies and such outside the store.


Has that place really only been open for a few years? It looks like the place we used to get take-out all the time when I was growing up. Do they have a really good garlic-cheese dip?

There is a venerable restaurant here that maintained its Duck a L’Orange, Victorian cathouse decor flavor up through the 90’s. I was taken there once by a friend and his sister–we were a party of about 6–and we asked to be seated in the no-smoking section. The waiter led us to a table and we proceeded with our meal as the restaurant gradually filled up for the evening. Some time later two gentlemen right out of Mafia central casting lit up their fat cigars a few tables away from us.

My hosts were upset about this and summoned the waiter. No, he said, we couldn’t be moved–there wasn’t any room. No, he said, nervously, he really could not ask those particular customers to refrain from smoking.

The place closed down sometime later and reopened as a more typical high-end restaurant and an era came to a close.

There is a photo store I know of that:

  1. Does not have a store name on their exterior, at all, but lots of generic photofinishing signage.
  2. Has a minilab for show. It doesn’t work. They bring all their photographic work to the store I work at, which isn’t much.
  3. Buys lots of instant film from us for passport cameras.
  4. Pays cash, usually, for the two preceding items.
  5. Doesn’t seem to carry much merchandise. Admittedly, I’ve only peeked in their door once or twice.

I can’t reconcile the above with being able to legitimately make enough money to pay their rent. It’s located in a relatively upscale area.

There’s a laundromat not far from me which is really just fucked up beyond belief. Literally… how “fucked up” could you really imagine a laundromat to be? (I even Yelped it).

Anyhoo, our own zyzzyva informed me that it was recently busted for selling heroin out of the back room. I don’t doubt it in the least. In fact, I’m almost scared to post about it online in fear I’ll get shot next time I visit.

Also, I misspelled “beyond” up there as “bveyobg.”

A local HVAC contractor run by a guy in his 60s and a couple of his sons is well known for the product they sell and we’re not taking about ductwork and filters. Rarely is this company ever hired for HVAC work–if you do call them for an estimate the bid will be extra high (ha!) so they won’t get chosen. Instead, if you know the right person to invoke, you can buy weed of various quality and quantity. They’ve been in business for 20+ years.

This is right up my alley, so to speak.

There is a tiny (half the size of the one in the OP, basicly just a counter and stove) little family run Mexican food joint in an industrial part of town that I ate at at least once a week. Damn good authentic food. Very reasonable prices.

Turns out the owner and his kid got busted for selling dope! I heard about after I stopped working in town, and missed all the excitement. Its still open, and the dude still runs it, and the food is as good as ever. Go figure.

Back when I lived in NYC, there was a store on my street. The store didn’t have a name or any kind of sign. It had two big display windows in the front, with shelves. On the shelves would be things like a used teddy bear; a set of checkers; some old pants; some old sneakers; miscellaneous dishes and utensils; a doll with an arm and an eye missing. Everything was covered with dust, because in all the time I lived there, those objects never changed. There were always 2-3 guys sitting around inside or by the door, doing nothing or playing checkers. Considering the price of New York real estate, I always wondered how they stayed “in business.”

Not quite the same thing, but an employee at a local KFC got busted for dealing drugs through the drive-thru window. The best part of the story was the code-phrase he used for droping a baggy in with your chicken: you were supposed to ask for “extra biscuits.”

Guess how he got caught.

There’s a lawn mower repair place not far from where we live. I’ve wanted to take my mower in for a couple of years now, but the place is never open. We drove by it the other morning at 7 AM, and I saw lights on inside for the first time in 8 years. But any other time, for instance, when you’d like to give them your business, nobody’s home, and nobody answers the phone.

In the city in Ontario where I used to live, there was a bonsai store. Yes, a bonsai store. Nothing else visible, just some bonsai arrangements sitting in the window, getting bleached by the sun. We never saw anyone in the store, or anyone enter or leave. How many people want to buy some bonsai? I can’t say I’ve ever been to anyone’s house where they had any on display. How could a person make enough money to live on, selling bonsai? You’d have to sell a thousand bonsai thingies a week just to pay the rent on the store! We always figured it was a front for something, but no one was interested enough to go in and look around.

There’s a Rod and Reel Repair Shop on Lee Highway in Cherrydale, where starter houses go for half a mil. It’s either made or some doddering fool who doesn’t need the money.

I have reason to believe there are lots of restaurants in this country that are fronts or sandboxes for made folks. There’s just no freakin’ way some of these places could legitimately exist.

Ditto for Radio Shack, for that matter.


All they seem to do is spend money.

There was a place my ex-girlfriend and I called “the Mafia restaurant”. Most establishments in this neighborhood are either really busy with local folks from this area, or they go under. But there was this one Italian restaurant that we could never figure out. No one we know in the area has ever set foot in it. No one. And nno one could recall ever seeing customers in there, ever.

And this is a neighbourhood that is like a small town unto itself. The store owners all know you by name. Neighborhoond folks patron the neigborhood businesses, but no one knew anythiung about htis place.

But for several years, once every few weeks, you’d see men in their 50s arrive in shiny cars with wives wearing enormous diamond rings and fur stoles (and enough jewellery to pay off my student loan). They’d all pile into the restaurant then leave after a few hours. Yeah, I know, it sound slike “Well, duh, they had dinner!” But it was kind of… sort of… not like that. It looked more like the women were socializing and them men were having a meeting.

There was a general consensus in the neighborhood was that the restaurant was totally empty, except for when they had “business meetings”. Then there was activity, and actually waiters wearing suits and carrying menus. At no toher time did you ever see staff if you went past.

The place has since closed and is now a Halaal resaurant that is kind of diner-like and fits in more appropriately to the space. I always wonder what the deal was with “the Mafia restaurant”. They were there for years without any customers, (heck, they were rarely even open) except for “business night”.

I’ve known two of these.

In Warrenville, IL, there’s a piano and organ store at the corner of Butterfield and Batavia Roads. I have never, ever seen a car in the parking lot, and we once tried to go in when we were actually thinking about buying a piano, only to find the doors locked and nobody there (this was a Saturday, just after lunch, when you’d expect a place to be open). We were convinced it was a mob front.

Down the street from where we live now there’s a Chinese “restaurant” called Mr. Ni’s (it’s at the SW corner of the Beachline Expressway and Courtenay Parkway in Merritt Island, for those of you in the area). When we first moved here I called them to order dinner, only to find out that they’re actually just a bar. Fair enough. Thing is, I’ve never seen more than a couple of cars in the parking lot.

We went in there one night, to find nobody at the bar, and about a dozen people playing poker at a table near the bar. While we were not actually told we didn’t belong there, the point was clear. We had a beer and left. I don’t know if the Chinese Tongs operate in Brevard County, but if they do, I think this is one of their places.

There was a place in Sydney about ten years ago that was selling plaster fittings for restoring old houses. Mostly ceiling roses for lights, and embossed ceiling panels, that sort of thing. Not the sort of business you would expect to be packed with people, but also the sort of place that should be able to survive in renovation-obsessed Sydney. And it did have people going in and out…

…young Vietnamese guys with long hair and tattoos. These lads looked like “5T” or “Circle” gang members. They didn’t look like the sort of person with any interest in restoring a 1900’s era home.

I have one on my desk, well it’s more a display since there is a little guy fishing in a stream. My Mom bought it for me as a house warming present. $240.