Friday Question of the Day – Removing Bullet Proof Glass From Our Retail Shops?

Back in July ’11 we learned that a 7-11 was coming to the retail space in the Shell Gas Station at Georgia and Shepherd St, NW. At the time not everyone was thrilled but after seeing it open, I think it’s a great improvement. Of course I would’ve preferred a Fast Gourmet Sandwich Shop but since that didn’t happen, the 7-11 is actually a huge improvement over the previous store. And I’m not talking about the access to Big Gulps and Slurpees – they took down the bullet proof glass partition. I can’t quite express how much more of a pleasant experience it is to enter a store without bullet proof glass. So it leads me to today’s Friday Question of the Day – when will some of our neighborhoods (mostly) east of the park start seeing their bullet proof glass removed?

I know the answer can be simple – when the neighborhoods get safer, the bullet proof glass will come down. Though we often debate this topic – I think many of these neighborhoods are way safer now than they were when the bullet proof partitions first went up. So let’s just speculate – when do you think our neighborhoods will be bullet proof/glass partition free? For example, I’m always surprised to still a glass partition up at the corner store at 11th and T St, NW. Or do you think partitions are here to stay for the foreseeable future?

94 Comment

  • The D.C. Supermarket, one of the bigger corner stores I’ve seen in the city, is right near my house at 8th and F NE (in other words, not a particularly dangerous area). The owners have basically built themselves a little compound behind their bulletproof glass, complete with air conditioning (the rest of the store is often broiling in the summer, but you catch a nice breeze at the cash register).

    They also smoke in their little studio apartment back there, which can’t be legal. The store just has a really negative vibe, even though I freely admit it is well stocked.

    Hence, I usually walk the extra block to the much smaller Adams Market at 7th and F, which does not have a glass-enclosed bunker and has two of the friendliest people on the planet running it.

    • it wasn’t that long ago that it was a bad neighborhood. have you talked with them about what they have experienced?

      why isn’t it legal to smoke in their apartment?

      • Sorry, should have made that more clear: I was referring to the rather large space behind the bulletproof glass when I said it was like a studio apartment. Bad joke.

        In other words, they smoke behind the register.

        I’ve lived within six blocks of the D.C. Supermarket for 13 years now, and I’m not sure it was ever a bad neighborhood, especially after they banned 40-ouncers.

        And no, I’ve never talked with them about their situation. It’s hard to have a conversation with someone through a thick pane of glass, especially someone whose first language isn’t English. I do, however, have a friend who works for Premium beer distributors and stocks the beer for that store almost daily. He says the owners are a bit off-kilter.

        They do have signs on their doors banning kids who aren’t accompanied by an adult (there’s a middle school down the block).

        • I lived at 10th and F NE about 5 years ago. I never really had a problem with the neighborhood, but a month after I left my former housemates were held up at gunpoint in the front yard, so it’s not, ya know, great.

          Yeah, the folks at that market were kind of dicks, but I imagine they did have to put up with a lot. My then-underaged housemate loved the place, though, because they would sell beer to her no questions asked.

    • You think 8th and F was never a bad neighborhood? It isn’t a perfect rose garden now and it was worse even 5 years ago, let alone 10.

      • I lived there 1992-1995 and it was quite bad even as far south as D street NE. When I pass through now I am amazed at the changes.

    • I’m with you, I never go to DC Supermarket. Sure, Adams Market is much smaller, with a more limited selection, but the owners are so nice. And, even with the limited selection, they always have everything I need.

      And I agree, it is far from a bad neighborhood, anecdotal evidence aside, the actualy crime statistics don’t support the assertion that the neighborhood is unsafe.

    • I shopped there pretty regularly for 4 years and I never saw them smoke, but I was usually there in the evenings. Plus, they always smiled and chatted with me (once they knew me) and occasionally gave me free gum and mousetraps.

      Adams is really great too, though.

  • I’m kind of surprised that new Hampshire mart at 16th and T and freedom mart at T and new Hampshire still have bullet proof glass.

    • have you walked on r street between 14th and 15th? there are lots of sketchy people in that neighborhood.

    • Totally agree, John. That’s the first thing I thought of when I read this post. Maybe it’s just not worth the time/cost to the store owner to rip out the partition?

    • I live across the street from the Freedom Market. I’m told that residents in my building used to sell drugs out of a first floor window prior to the 1992 gutting/condo conversion. If the Freedom Market hasn’t been renovated since then, I’m not surprised that the glass partitions still exist. As someone else noted, it’s probably expensive to rehab the place. The owners are quite nice, and I’m grateful the market is there.

      I’m more disappointed with the setup of the 14th and T Street Post Office. It sounds like that might be the only neighborhood branch left open, after the Florida Avenue and Kalorama branches close. I hope they use some of the savings to make the 14th Street one more user-friendly, though I doubt they well.

  • Statistically, an on-duty convenience-store employee faces a higher risk of homicide than an on-duty police officer.

    The bulletproof glass should be mandatory.

    • Required? As in, there should be a law that to operate convenience store, you need to have bulletproof glass?

      • I think the reason the glass stays up is for insurance reasons. The insurance premiums go up quite a bit without a protected register.

  • I doubt that anyone has done a controlled study of homicide and those occupations and the numbers would be too small to provide good confidence intervals–homicide is a relatively rare event. The presence of people who offend delicate middle class sensibilities on R St shouldn’t affect business practices several blocks away amidst lots of long-term gentrification. There are c-stores in neighborhoods that have seen bad times that gave always gone w/o plexiglas. I’m think of the Mt P 7-11 which was there during the 1991 riot and is open 24-7. I would expect the greatest vulnerability to be at night when there are fewer customers in the store, more drunks, etc., and most of these places close in the evening.

    I think, on balance, it’s a good sign. It shows confidence in the community and makes it easier to build community with customers. The same thing with bars coming off windows of homes. That was one of the first visible signs that my old neighborhood in Atlanta had turned a corner.

  • It’s up to the store owner. I know gentrifying yuppies (I am one) don’t like to be reminded that they moved into a community with a crime problem, but these protection measures make sense. If I owned a store I wouldn’t want to risk my life so some of my neighbors would feel better about their neighborhood. Google LeDroit park market robbery and watch the YouTube video. This story can play out in pretty much a y neighborhood east of the park. Remember what people say when someone gets robbed while listening to their iPod? Don’t become a target. If you don’t have glass, you are a target. Kudos to the business owners who don’t feel that way,but I can’t fault the ones who do. It’s their obligation to keep their employees safe.

    • Well phrased.

    • I agree. Just watched the video and wow, seeing the clerk get pisol whipped a few times would make any store owner in that area seriously consider bullet proof glass .

    • Good points and good responses to this particular comment. Part of my dislike of the bulletproof glass is also my inner yuppie, but that’s the smaller issue. It irks me more when it is hard to hear and talk through them. I also dislike them because they are often dirty. I don’t know if bulletproof glass is hard to clean or if it tends to be in business that are less clean by nature; there are plenty of upscale corner stores in Dupont that could use a serious scrubbing.

      At the end of the day I accept it as part of city life. I can’t fault any owners for wanting to feel safe, however that manifests in the policies or design of their business.

      They have a right to feel secure and I have a right to walk to a different convenience store or take-out joint if I want a more personable experience.

  • When I lived in Ledroit I used to frequently shop at the market at 4th and T, and loved that it didn’t have bulletproof glass. Unfortunately, he kept getting robbed.

    I imagine taking the bulletproof glass down is an act of faith akin to removing the bars from your windows. I actually took mine off, but many of my neighbors think I’m crazy to do so.

  • Have there been any armed robberies of convenience / liquor stores in Columbia Heights or the surrounding area recently? I haven’t heard of any, but they just might not have been publicized.

    I wish Park Market on 13th and Park would improve the store appearance and selection. They are in a great location and could do a lot more business if they sold better quality / specialty food and beer in addition to lottery tickets, etc., if they got rid of the uninviting bullet proof glass, and if they turned the wooden outcroppings facing the street into windows showcasing the store and letting light in. Right now it is very uninviting.

    • TOTALLY agree. they absolutely have a great location, but I think they’re probably scaring off lots of potential customers with how goddamn shady the place just LOOKS.

    • Since Columbia Heights has some of the highest crime rates in the city, I would assume that stores get robbed at a higher rate than other parts of the city. Criminals know if they rob a chipotle they’ll be on the evening news, but if they rob Mr. Wong’s Quick-e-Mart his mug shot MIGHT end up on the wall, but thats even a stretch.

  • anyone got an idea how much it would cost to take it down? if a corner store is just scraping by, they might not be able to spare the scratch.

    and a corner store in a gentrifying area probably is just scraping by because the rent keeps going up but the new residents aren’t interested in buying your typical bodega fare.

    • I agree with this analysis. My guess is that these stores don’t make a huge profit. Thus, if an owner has gone through the hassle and expenses of installing bulletproof glass, why spend the extra money to take it down?

      While I don’t like the aesthetics of these partitions, I actually feel worse for the folks who work inside them. A customer is out of most of these stores in 5-10 minutes; the workers have to be in those weird glass boxes for 8-10 hours.

  • How about this…

    We can start talking about store owners in the District taking down the bulletproof glass, when everyone who lives in that neighborhood takes down the bars on the windows and doors.

    Same exact thing and frankly, walking through street after street with every house having every first floor window and door barred gives me a worse feeling that walking into a random corner bodega with security glass.

    • I did that a year ago and then my house just got broken into last week 🙁

      • Out of curiousity let me ask this because I am in CH and been thinking of doing the same with my windows/doors.

        Did they break in through the unbarred window or door?

    • Its not really the same thing. Business owners have to make a calculation on how to make the most money. When I want to make more money, I can just take the bars down right before I sell.

    • I’ve never understood the negative opinions of the window bars. They are not unattractive and offer real security. When I see these people moving into neighborhoods like Bloomingdale and taking down the security bars and replacing them with glass doors and fancy wooden doors that might as well have “burglarize me” woodburned into them, I think these people have a lot more money than common sense.

      • Really?

        The first thing I (and anyone I’ve ever known) think when I see a house that has its windows and doors barred is that (this is a crime infested rat hole that requires people to literally bar themselves into their house). It speaks volumes about the neighborhood and I guess it is your opinion, but I think bars over everything is horrendously ugly.

        Take a walk through Cleveland Park, Georgetown, Burleith, Kalorama. Not bars on the doors, no bars on the windows. Why? Because while they aren’t immune to crime, they don’t have to worry about someone breaking in every minute of the day like I do in CH.

        • you should expand your circles.

          • +2

            I did see window bars on some of the houses on my last walk through Georgetown.

          • +3. Actually, I teach at Georgetown and we get little email notices whenever there is a burglary in the neighborhood, and there are TONS of them. It’s a total (racist perhaps?) myth that Georgetown is safe as far as routine crime goes. I feel much safer in my Columbia Heights apartment, where I know my neighbors are looking out for me.

      • I’d have bars on my windows in Dupont. Seriously. If a criminal wants a bunch of stuff and there are bars in his hood, why wouldnt he go the 1 mile from the hood to a swanky place in dupont?

        What I love are all the new 700k places in B’dale that have GLASS PANELED FRONT DOORS and a flat screen television in front of the all glass picture window. I’m a law abiding, god fearing, community loving neighbor, and I can understand the temptation.

  • It’s a huge leap of faith for a store owner to take down the glass, and as Anon 7:35 pointed out, it doesn’t always end well. So I won’t ever blame a store owner for leaving it up.

    But I think part of the issue is “selective marketing”. You can take down the glass if you make a concerted effort to rebrand your store to more upscale customers. Window’s market in Bloomingdale did this successfully (and of course they had a couple of bad robberies along the way). They also received substantial support and consulting from the North Capitol Main Streets group to facilitate their rehab.

    But most bodega owners are too nervous or conservative to take that leap. They want to continue to cater to their long-standing customers. As a result, long after the rest of the neighborhood has gentrified, they still attract the sketchiest element around. So at that point the glass becomes a self-fulfilling requirement.

    Also, I’m not sure if bodega owners really understand the economic changes in the city, and how to take advantage o them. A lot of them seem pretty isolated. Many are immigrants who don’t speak English well, and they often live in the far suburbs.

  • Bulletproof glass is unpleasant for those of us with no inclination to rob anyone at gunpoint (and probably for those who have this inclination too!), but I agree with the commentators who are suggesting it’s unreasonable to be annoyed at owners for protecting themselves and their employees in a way that doesn’t maximize the customer aesthetic experience.

    Also – re: the original post – the AC thing makes sense. They have to sit in an unventilated part of the store all day long. Customers only have to be in there for a few minutes. AC for the whole place is probably more than a local convenience store can afford. They are not being mean; they’re just making their working conditions livable the best they can. (The smoking is another issue; likely a culture gap there.)

    • I don’t know about “AC for the whole place is probably more than a local convenience store can afford”… the other day, when I was walking by the mini-mart at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Quebec Place (which is open fairly limited hours), I noticed that the window units were chugging away even though the store was closed.

  • One robbery at gunpoint is probably too many a psyche to take. Could you keep showing up at work if you were afraid of every other person who walked in the door?

    What are we asking here–when will all the poor people be gone? All the guns?

  • Prince Of Petworth

    I def. didn’t mean to imply that it was unreasonable for the glass to exist. I’m just saying that it is unpleasant. And positive change is still in the air. So I’m just wondering when folks thing it will come down. If 7-11 can do it – I think (hope) others can as well. By no means am I blaming the owners. The areas where the glass currently exists is there for a reason. The answer could be – they won’t come down for 20 years. I’m just curious what you guys think? Personally, I don’t think they are going to a permanent fixture in the future.

    • I think you’re asking a fair question. But my reaction, and Im sure others, is based on the cries of our neighbors against any business that has the glass.

      Personally, I dont shop at those places often, but I understand why the owners want to do that. I also would consider having bars in any house in any part of town unless I could afford a very sophisticated alarm system. I’m not willing to sacrifice my safety so that folks walking down the street will feel better about it. I dont even live in fear of crime – I’m just a bit of a realist. I know its out there and i want to be the guy who runs away faster from the bear than you do.

      • A subtle but good point in here: people who find the glass unpleasant and off-putting don’t — and never will — do a lot of shopping at these places. They’ll continue to drive their cars to Costco, Whole Foods, or pick-up for their local CSA to stock the bulk of their pantry. At best, the corner store is a run-out-and-get-some-beer-on-Friday night option for them. So these stores will never be able to count on being these customers being their primary revenue stream; they have to cater to a wider demographic that, unfortunately, comes with an attendant higher risk.

    • Better question might be: How long until robberies force the new 7-11 to install bullet-proof glass?

    • 7-11 can do it because it is corporately owned and fully insured, and if something bad happens, there’s a backup system. Many corner stores are owned by families — often immigrants — that have placed all their savings into the business and staff the place themselves. If something goes wrong, not only is their livelihood at risk, but their lives are, too. It’s unrealistic to think they’d abandon the plexiglass that may be the only thing between them and someone with very bad intentions, no matter how unpleasant it may feel.

      I have a very good friend whose parents long ran a corner store in a crappy section of Philly forever. Trust me when I tell you that he had plenty of bad experiences. The unpleasantness of that glass is nothing in comparison.

      • I hadn’t thought about the chain vs. independent aspect… this is a helpful angle to point out.

        • And I’m not even sure that 7-11 stores are all corporately owned. Still, even if they’re franchised, I’m relatively confident that the franchise agreements require them to be open and airy and hew to the 7-11 vibe/brand, so any franchisees may not even have the option of putting up bulletproof glass if they wanted to do so.

  • It really all depends on whether or not the city keeps moving on its upward trajectory or gets stalled. Cancellation of the rest of the Georgia Avenue streetscape plan isn’t a good sign–no matter how big or small the project was.

    This part of town (Petworth/Parkview/U Street/Shaw, etc.) languished for 40 years after the ’68 riots, I could see it going another 20.

    • We often talk about the riots being the breaking point for dc, but that’s not complete. Crack had an effect on the culture of DC that was far more damaging than the riots.

      An effect that could linger another 40 years until people get very serious about the social ills and inequalities in our city.

    • I love the constant offensive aimed at Gray… he pluses up the street car, moves ahead on multiple development projects, funds a dog park in shaw with 80k EXTRA, fires a bunch of teachers, AND sees a decline in crime but all these people wants to paint this marion barry caricature of him and use things like cancelling out a 1.4million dollar street scape program as the reason to hate him.

      Personally, I dont like Vince Gray – but you know what he’s doing? He’s continuing the work of Williams and Fenty, but unlike Fenty, he’s doing it on the downlow so as to not raise the ire of the old guard. If you want some real progress to be made for years after years, we cant have divisive leaders who stick their fingers in the eyes of people with sensitive egos. The demographics may have changed a lot, but the single most important demographic to win an election citywide is the hood vote and the church going black vote. It may suck, but its true.

      • I love the constant offensive aimed at Gray… Your comment is the first to mention Mayor Gray in this thread.

        Elaborate on the “hood vote” please.

        • I have no idea where I’d get the idea that people on here blame vince gray for the defunding of the streetscape program.

          The hood vote are the people who live in the hood and continually vote for destructive policies because they feel the candidate is more closely aligned with them socially. Its the exact same thing as the redneck vote. Come on, its not that hard.

          • But Gray did decide to defund the streetscape program. Who do you think I should blame? I don’t think that makes him Marion Barry, I just think it makes him a guy who made a bad choice.

            You’re wrong about him continuing the work of Fenty and Williams, though, and the streetscape program can be exhibit A. It was first conceived by Williams, continued by Fenty, and then defunded by Gray.

          • So you argued against my point, by proving my point? Thanks Socrates.

          • Sorry, what was you point? That people blame Gray for defunding the streetscape program? Of course we do – he did it. Or was your point that Gray is continuing the work of Williams and Fenty? He’s not – the streetscape project that he defunded was, in fact, the work of Williams and Fenty.

            I’m not sure which one of your points you think I proved. Would you care to drop the attitude and have an actual discussion?

      • Yeah, I’m not sure of your point, either.

        Here’s mine: This part of town hasn’t been prosperous enough to eliminate fear of violent crime for more than half a century and gentrification isn’t going to change that fact overnight, or even within five years. The Georgia Avenue corridor has been the poster child of unfulfilled promise for so long that stalled development feels like more of the same. If it gets the kind of treatment Columbia Heights, H Street and U Street got then there’s a good chance you can see the bulletproof glass coming down. If the trajectectory evens out or goes back down–for reasons outside of Gray’s control, like bond rating downgrade–then it ain’t happening.

        Smaller stores fall victim to armed robbery because they’re less likely to have high volume of traffic, i.e. witnesses, inside and outside the store. Up the volume of foot traffic and you change the dynamic.

  • The Subway in Brookland (12th & Monroe NE) used to have a bulletproof glass partition, but got rid of it about two years ago when they did a complete remodeling of the store. It was definitely a very welcome change in a neighborhood that still has a lot of stores/restaurants with bulletproof glass. The remodeling looks great as well, and as far as I know, the owners haven’t had any issues with customers.

    On the other hand, the bodega on 12th and Newton NE (Newton Market?) never had a glass partition, and the owner was fatally shot during a botched robbery not too long ago. The store reopened with new ownership, who also chose not to use bulletproof glass at the counter.

  • The register at the Whitelaw Market on 13th and T still sits behind what I assume is bullet proof glass, and I know from talking to the owners that they’d love to remove both it and the bars on the windows and doors, but every time they dare think they can do it some idiot throws a brick through their window to steal a six pack of beer. Pretty sad.

  • Always wonder why Dominos and Pizza Hut in Petworth have them. Who robs a Pizza Hut? Seems like an ultra high risk robbery. Normally multiple employees, delivery drivers coming and going.

    Would love to see them come down at these locations specifically.

  • I don’t like it when I see it, but as I don’t have to work there, I don’t think my opinion counts. I took the bars off my place, but I wouldn’t want the convenience store lady to come and tell me to do it because she didn’t like them.

    It’s nice to see them come down when the employees/owners think it’s ok for them to do so.

  • Ironically, doesn’t the Fast Gourmet gas station still have bullet-proof glass for the cashier?

    • Prince Of Petworth

      I thought about that – it does. But the fast gourmet part (including the cashier) has no partition. So half and half I guess.

  • Need a pack of Newport. Soft pack.

  • anywhere there is a cash register is a target.

  • This is a great question. I was psyched when the new market opened on the corner of Warder and Rock Creek Church Rd. For the first couple of weeks it was wide open. Then they went with the bulletproof glass and the whole vibe of the place changed. I respect the owners’ decision to do what they feel is necessary. But I also am put off by the bulletproof glass. I decided to vote with my wallet. I only shop at that store on rare occasions for small stuff that I need immediately. Same with the bulletproof liquor store on Georgia near The House. I don’t go there unless I have no other option.

    • I think your decision not to shop at the place is IGNORANT and should be based on whether the place is nice and the workers/owners are friendly versus the fact that the owner is concerned about their employees safety! But to each there own.

    • I go to Rock Creek Market often as it is very well stocked, the family is very nice, and it is close to home. According to the owner the glass went up shortly after a botched shooting robbery on Georgia Ave. They have mentioned taking it down but I don’t think it will be any time soon. I know it sucks for them to be behind glass and I would prefer it not to be there, but I completely understand their safety concerns.

    • “Same with the bulletproof liquor store on Georgia near The House. I don’t go there unless I have no other option.”

      Voting with your wallet? That’s the cheapest store in the area so you may be voting against yourself…

  • I don’t remember for sure, but doesn’t the Market 77 near the Georgia Ave.-Petworth Metro station (the one that opened earlier this summer; see ) have a bulletproof glass partition?

    (I’ve walked by it many times, but I’ve never been inside.)

    It’s one thing for a store with existing bulletproof glass to keep it, but it’s certainly not very encouraging when a brand-new store gauges the risk and decides that even though the neighborhood is becoming less sketchy, they still need to have bulletproof glass.

  • It is definitely more inviting without bullet-proof glass but as a member of a family who owned a store (in another city) that was robbed at gunpoint I would have to side with the fact that your opinion, and possible lack of business due to bullet-proof glass is not worth me compromising my family or workers safety.

  • Ha, nice catch there anon2. The above comment was simply referring to the potential cancellation of a program (which I don’t agree with) but no where was it an “offensive aimed at Gray”

  • The Subway on 12th St NE in Brookland remodeled and took them down. Same with the wings place.

    The pizza carryout is still holding faithful to the glass though.

  • I keep waiting for Brothers Liquor(Florida and Montello Ave NE) to get rid of their glass. Something tells me I’ll be waiting a long time. It’s hard to squeeze a handle of Jack through that rotating carousel…

  • for some reason, i only shop at places with bullet resistant glass when i’m drunk.

  • I remember when there was bullet-resistant plexiglass at a liquor store then on 17th St near Q.

    It’s a matter of time before the bullet-proof shields disappear. Fears linger for a long time especially with our neighbors who lived in Petworth during the killing years at the height of the crack cocaine days, 20 years ago.

    As fewer of us, residents and merchants alike, define ourselves by fear, these things will change for the better.

    The larger, American culture defines itself by fear way out of proportion to real threats, a fear happily reinforced by one of the major political parties.

    Read “The Culture of Fear” if this topic interests you.

  • I shop at the Rock Creek Church Market and I think they manage to strike the right balance between being a bit more upscale but also still having the bullet proof glass. I think a lot of it depends on how well kept or organized the rest of the store is in how its perceived overall. The owners there are very nice and take requests on items to stock and have a decent selection of items for the gentrifiers but I also completely understand the desire to not get shot while also selling organic peanut butter and olive oil.

  • If the 7-11 employees had a say, they might choose bullet proof glass. But they didn’t get to make that choice, a corporation did. Corporations have little incentive to protect their employees from harm because their liability is usually covered by workers comp, which in most places bars a tort suit by employees for workplace injury. Very different from a family owned business.

  • Let’s be generous and say that 95% of all humans anywhere in the world – regardless of race, background, economic circumstances – are good/honest/honorable and kind – (under ordinary, non-starving/siege of Leningrad kind of circumstances.)

    So the population of DC is around 600,000. Even with 95% angels that still still leaves us 30,000 villains. Take out half for those engaged in real major crimes. Knock off another 10,000 for general mugging people, robbing stores, beating the girlfriend etc.

    So that leaves us 5,000 random bad guys. Let’s knock off another 4/5 of them as just too stupid or addled to attempt more than stupid crimes. That still leaves 1000 criminals with enough savy to snatch your goodies in under 5 minutes from your un-barred home.

  • Interesting to read the anti-glass comments- maybe I am jaded, but I don’t even see it. As I read the comments, some of which mentioned places I shop, I had to stop and think “Oh, yeah, I guess they do have the glass.” It’s there, or it’s not there – it has no impact on whether I shop at a particular store or not. I am more interested in how convenient the store is, their prices, and what they carry.

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