The doorbell rings, ushering in another customer. At this time of night, it could be anyone.
Lawrence residents who work nights so that others can buy a late-night six-pack, fill up a tank of gas or check into a motel take their chances, but it's a risk they say they're willing to take.
Just two weeks ago, two Lawrence Kwik Shops, a Walgreens drug store and the International House of Pancakes all were robbed. All of the incidents took place after 10 p.m. No one was hurt.
Some businesses, despite the risk, often have just one employee working during the graveyard shift from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.
"I've never understood that," said Alvin "Joe" Schmidtberger, owner of Alvin's Wine and Spirits. "We've made a commitment to our employees - there's always two people in the store."
Some employers install security cameras and alarms, while others combine surveillance with a policy of having at least two employees on duty at a time.
Richard Montes, who has worked at Hallmark Inn on Iowa Street for two years, recently switched from the night shift and now works the motel's front desk from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.
"I don't mind being here overnight," he said. "Yeah, it's kind of scary sometimes."
But, Montes said, he feels safer at his job simply because fewer people come overnight.
"In a gas station, you have more people coming in," said Montes, 26. "It's in the news all the time, clerks getting robbed or killed or something. I won't do it."
At 10:30 p.m. on a recent Thursday, Kyle Flinn and John Augusto man their posts behind the counter at Alvin's Wine and Spirits on Iowa Street. Bottles of alcohol line the walls. A tiny television is tuned to VH1. A crowbar is behind the counter - just in case.
And though the liquor store employees said they've never had to use it, the weapon adds an element of safety.
"Usually, 99 percent of the customers that walk in, it's not a problem," said Augusto, 39. "The 1 percent of customers you just throw out."
Flinn laughed. For three months the Kansas University student has been an Alvin's employee - a job his mother worries about.
"(Augusto and I) always go out to the parking lot together," Flinn said. "That's the only time I would be really scared; that somebody would be waiting if we didn't sell to them or something like that."
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, homicides account for 16 percent of job-related fatalities. People most at risk are those who work late at night, work alone or handle money.
Strength in numbers
In addition to keeping at least two to three employees on the night shift, Schmidtberger ensures that the front windows of his two Lawrence stores are free of inventory and well-lit. The Alvin's owner, who has been in the liquor business since 1989, credits these tactics to his stores never being robbed.
"The biggest thing is having people in your store," he said. "We make them visible, too."
Another detraction to potential thieves is that more and more people are paying with credit or debit cards, so less cash is kept in the register than ever before.
"There's no cash left in the stores anymore," Schmidtberger said. "I'm happy with that."
At Hallmark Inn, Montes said he rests easier knowing that he can call police at the touch of a button.
"I accidentally pressed it once, and they were here," Montes said. "So I know it works."
Andrea Wright, another Hallmark Inn employee, also works the graveyard shift at the Zarco Phillips 66 gasoline station at Ninth and Iowa streets.
"I have an emergency button, but who's to say you can find that when (a robbery) happens?" she said. "I have a phone, too, but who's to say where I'm going to be when someone decides to rob the place, too?"
As the lone employee from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., Wright constantly must keep her wits about her as she restocks the cooler, picks up trash around the station and carts boxes to a garbage bin at the back of the property.
"I've never felt real threatened," said Wright, 49.
She would feel safer, however, if she had a co-worker to share her shift.
"Having two people here while somebody went and stocked the cooler, the other person could be at the counter or whatever," Wright said. "I feel pretty vulnerable in there."
Arron Atchison, 20, has worked at Java Break in downtown Lawrence for about two months and started on the graveyard shift. He works days now but said he always enjoyed the regulars who came in for their late-night caffeine kick.
"I think it's one of my favorite times to work. Also, there's interesting people that come in," Atchison said. "You kind of get to know them."
And just in case, a baseball bat has its place behind the counter.