Marine: The neighborhood voicing support for the owner of Marine Market after she was assaulted outside the store. Clara Harter

On the evening of Jan. 26, Nadia Virani, the owner of Marine Market, was locking up the well-loved Ocean Park bodega when she was attacked from behind, maced and knocked to the ground.

According to SMPD Lt. Rudy Flores, witnesses heard Virani screaming and observed two suspects on either side of her tugging at her purse. Officers responded to a call for unknown trouble at 9:22 p.m. and collected a set of keys and an ID from the crime scene.

The two suspects fled the east on Marine St. after witnesses began yelling. Suspects are described as 20 to 30 year old Black males wearing black hoodies and black pants. One was described as being a heavier build (180 to 200 lbs) and the other had shoulder length braided hair.

A day after the attack, Virani was back at the store. Physically injured and psychologically traumatized, Virani had few options as she relies on the market’s tight margins of income and has been running the business alone since the start of the pandemic.

“I do everything by myself, going to the bank, stocking, everything all by myself from day to night,” said Virani. “That’s the only way I can keep the market even though it’s so hard.”

Virani said the immediate pain came from the liquid poured in her eyes and on her face. Once the burning faded she felt acute pain from the attack in her shoulder, chest and ribs. She is still recovering from her injuries.

Fortunately, the neighborhood has her back. Every evening following the incident residents come guard the store and escort Virani at closing time to ensure she is protected on the dark and quiet street. Virani has moved closing time to 8 p.m. and said she has no intention of staying open later again.

“We should be there physically for her, you know, at least for the foreseeable future, so that she comes to no harm,” said Ocean Park resident Sekhar Singaraju. “We have to think a little proactively, because every evening she’s vulnerable sitting there.”

Residents have also launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to upgrade the security at Marine Market. While a $1,500 goal was set, donations vastly surpassed expectations and residents raised over $7,400 in the first four days.

“Donations have come from neighbors near and far. People spread the announcement to people they knew including people who had moved out of the neighborhood,” said Roberta Levitow, fundraiser organizer. “It’s been an incredible demonstration of the power of the neighborhood community.”

The fundraiser is ongoing and money will be used to purchase security cameras and other anti-theft measures for the store. On Feb. 1, a local electrician replaced and upgraded the store’s outdoor lighting free of charge.

Concerned neighbors also organized a meeting with SMPD officers and Virani to discuss best safety practices. The SMPD Community Affairs team is actively working with the surrounding residents and looking to set up a neighborhood watch.

“She was maced, she was beaten and they pushed her to the ground. It was an example of the cruelty that people can demonstrate to one another,” said Levitow. “Everyone involved—donors, escort neighbors, concerned neighbors, Nadia—we’re all profoundly moved by this demonstration of the kindness and care that people can show one another.”

Clara@smdp.com