The San Juan County Sheriff's Office is investigating three armed robberies at local smoke shops. During each robbery, a suspect showed a weapon and stole cash and products from the business, said sheriff's office spokeswoman Beth Utley in a news release.
The most recent robbery was at 9 p.m. Tuesday at Rollet Smoke Shop, 1010 N.M. Highway 516 in Aztec. The same business was robbed March 28 and Still Smokin, 5527 Highway 64 in Farmington, was robbed on April 10.
The sheriff's office is "exploring the possibility" the robberies are related, Detective Lt. Cory Tanner said.
All the robberies happened in the evening hours, he said.
Tanner said that products stolen Rollet Smoke Shop were marketed as incense. The items were labeled to indicate that they are not for human consumption, but they can be smoked or ingested for drug-like effects.
The recent robberies have put other smoke shops on alert.
"The owners told us to watch out," said Jacob Leyva, the night manager at 516 Smoke Shop between Aztec and Farmington. "They told us to be on our toes."
The shop is located across the highway from Rollet. It opened in July and has never been robbed, but employees are taking precautions, Leyva said.
The managers and owners of the two smoke shops that were robbed did not return messages on Thursday.
A Still Smokin employee named Brandon, who did not want to give his last name, was robbed while working on April 10. Near closing time, a skinny man with a knife came in and demanded money, he said.
"I wasn't that scared. He wasn't that intimidating," Brandon said. "He looked like he was on drugs."
Both of the shops that were robbed primarily sell glass pipes that cost anywhere from $10 to more than $100. The pipes are legal, but if they are used to smoke marijuana they become drug paraphernalia, Tanner said.
"Glassware is the most expensive thing we got, and that's what most people come in here for," Leyva said.
Police described a suspect in Tuesday night's robbery as a heavy man who was wearing dark clothes. He had fled the scene by the time police arrived.
No one has been injured in the robberies.
Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Tim Nyce at 505-334-6197 or Crime Stoppers at 505-334-TIPS (8477), which allows tipsters to remain anonymous and receive a cash reward.
Ryan Boetel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4644. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel.