The first Friday of the month is usually a busy day for Ed Paperman, who operates a check cashing business out of his Tamaqua cigarette shop and mini-mart.
Paperman got more business than he expected Friday morning, but it was not the kind of business welcomed at his store, We R Cigarettes on Mauch Chunk Street.
Three masked gunmen entered the store shortly after 9 a.m. Customers were told to get down on the floor while one of the men leaped over the counter and forced Paperman at gunpoint to hand over the contents of his cash register.
During the incident, one of the customers was hit on the head by one of the robbers. The customer, who was taken by ambulance for treatment, was the only one injured.
Taking only cash as well as a couple of cell phones from the customers, the men fled into a van and are now being sought by Tamaqua police. The amount of money taken is yet to be determined.
As of press time, the robbery suspects were still at large.
Tamaqua Chief of Police Dave Mattson, who arrived on the scene with two other officers within minutes of the robbery, said that, according to witnesses, the suspects "spoke with a Spanish accent" and that police are seeking a getaway vehicle, an older model Chevy or Dodge van with a high top.
Original accounts from witnesses said the van was either tan or maroon in color. It is believed the van headed north.
Witnesses at the scene called the facial coverings of the robbers "Halloween masks."
Paperman said the man who jumped over his counter was wearing a black ski jacket and a white skeleton mask.
Paperman said that witnesses in the store told him the man who jumped over the counter was pointing an Uzi. Customers in the store at the time suggested the robbers were using automatic weapons.
Paperman's shop reopened for business around 1:30 p.m., with customers lined up out the door and onto the street at times.
Tamaqua police released the following statement concerning the robbery/assault incident.
"On Dec. 3 at 9:15 a.m. Tamaqua Police were dispatched to 34 Mauch Chunk Street for a robbery that had just occurred. Three Hispanic males wearing masks and dressed in black had entered the store and held the owner and occupants at gunpoint. They then demanded the owner empty his register. Once that was complete, the three fled the store and fled the area in a red/burgundy van with a raised roof at the rear.
"Police are asking for anyone who may have been in the area at the time and may have seen something to call (570) 668-5000."
Tamaqua has been in the process of installing surveillance cameras in its downtown area, but Mattson said the camera system is not yet operational.