CHATHAM, NJ - Don Prisco checks the video camera before he comes out from the back to greet customers at Crescent Jewelers in Chatham, where he has been in business for 36 years.
He has to eye everyone who walks through his front door with a little suspicion ever since July 28, 2016, when two men put a gun to his wife's head and cleared out most of his top jewelry inventory. It has been difficult to move past the violent act, which occurred 10:45 a.m. on a sunny summer morning on Main Street in Chatham.
Friday represented the one-year anniversary of the day he had gold bracelets, diamond rings and earrings stolen by three black males, two of whom were caught and charged. One has been sentenced. The second has pled not guilty and is awaiting trial.
"I think about it every day when I lock the door, are they going to try and come in and rob me while I'm closing the door?," Prisco said. "Every time the buzzer rings, I have all different ways to watch them now. Since it happened, I close my door every day thinking, 'If you want to be a coward try me.'
"My wife had a gun pointed at her forehead. She had a ring on her forehead from the gun, that's how hard they hit her with it. Then they taped her hands and threw her to the ground. She had a big black-and-blue mark from where they were stepping on her while stealing the jewelry."
Joanne Prisco, the sole proprietor at the time of the robbery, had seen the robbers the day before when they came in and asked to have jewelry cleaned as they cased the store. She cleaned the jewelry for free, but later told her husband she had an uneasy feeling about the men.
"She's having a real tough time getting over it," Prisco said. "She's alright, but if the wrong type of person comes in, it makes her nervous. If I go to the bank for five minutes, I have to lock the door because she won't be alone anymore. Even at home, she's always thinking that they're going to rob us at home. They've done that to a couple jewelers, followed them home and took them back to the store and made them open up the safe.
"They caught her the first time. She didn't have her remote (alarm) with her and they caught her before she could push any buttons. Now we don't even go to the bathroom without it."
The scenario that led up to the robbery turned out to be a perfect storm for the criminals. Prisco had been in the hospital four days due to emergency surgery and he was getting dressed to come in and help out when his wife called about the robbery.
"I'm usually always here, but because I had surgery she was alone," he said. "Somehow they figured out I went into the hospital and I was in for four days.
"I'd feel better if they found my jewelry. We lost a lot. They took 800 pieces of jewelry from us in 15 minutes. They took all of my diamond jewelry, all of my wedding bands, tennis bracelets, diamond earrings. They took everything."
The Priscos were insured, but the policy required that there had to be two at least two people in the store at all times, so it has turned into a very expensive loss. In the days after the robbery, Prisco went to pawn shops in Newark and later ventured into New York City in hopes of recovering some of the lost jewelry, estimated to be worth in the "high six figures."
"They took a big chunk," Prisco said. "They took every diamond. They took 300 gold chains and 550 pieces of diamond jewelry and they were all my big ones. I had 100 engagement rings and they took them all. I'm a jeweler, I'm a setter, I'm a watch maker, I do everything. Major crimes was here in 15 minutes when they found out how much we lost. The FBI, state police. I never saw so many policeman here at one time. The third guy in the car they wouldn't give up. They think he might have been the ringleader. They offered them both a lesser sentence and they wouldn't give him up."
Prisco believes that when News 12 New Jersey featured Chatham, it caught the attention of bad actors, who were suddenly made aware of the small town with a nice jewelry store.
"Channel 12 News was here the Saturday before," Prisco said. "The red flag should have gone up. If you watched the show, they had a picture of our store. They must have seen it on TV. The day before, I saw one of them at 1 o'clock in the afternoon. I came out and asked him what he wanted and he got nervous and left. They're cowards. They found Chatham. They came here, it's calm and everyone had their guard down."
The support he has received from everyone in town has helped heal some of the wounds.
"This town has been very good to me," he said. "Customers still come in here to this day, a year later, they drop food off, they bring flowers to my wife. The town of Chatham has really been good. They hate that somebody tainted their town. They came in here and robbed one of us? It's not just business, it's friendship. All the store keepers came in almost every day to check on us. They still come in and ask if everything is okay."
A number of people, including Charlie's Aunt, wanted to run a fundraiser for Prisco so he could recover some of his losses, but he declined a number of offers.
"They wanted to run something to raise money for us, but I had to tell them no," he said. "Give the money to someone who is sick and needs it. I'm not down-and-out that I have to take money from somebody, so we turned them all down. I can't take anything from anybody."
In addition to his regular inventory of jewelry are the collections on display at Crescent Jewelers that are not for sale. Prisco has numerous antique jewelry scales set high up on top of the cases in his store and a whole case full of cigarette lighters that has a sign "Not for Sale." Among the other antiques he collects are pocket watches.
"I'll sell some of those, but there are certain ones that I won't sell," Prisco said.