"You're not going to shop there, are you?"

Bobbie Lynn Riebel stood outside Johnnies Liquors in Bellmawr, where she'd been for two hours. Matthew Evans, 26, in town from Maryland for work, was on the doorstep, hand poised above the knob.

"Is there another liquor store?" Evans asked.

"Two lights down!" Bobbie Lynn and her husband, Don Riebel, said together, pointing. They've become accustomed to delivering the line. Evans headed off.

Since Memorial Day, the Riebels have spent most weekday evenings and all day on weekends here, on the corner of West Browning Road and Princeton Avenue, directing patrons away from Johnnies.

The liquor store was briefly closed last month, when, after a months-long investigation, police seized a laundry list of drugs including heroin, crack cocaine, oxycodone, and marijuana from Johnnies and the Bellmawr Laundromat, just across the street.

The protesters' ultimate goal is for both shops to be shut down.

Five suspects - Armando Rosario, 59, an employee at the laundromat; the three owners of the liquor store, Jalat Patel, 46, Dhananjaya Patel, 48, and Rakesh Patel, 43; and Dominique Green, 27, who lives nearby but does not work at either shop - were arrested in the bust, which targeted two drug-trafficking networks.

Both establishments remain open. Rosario remains in jail; Green is free on bail. The Patel brothers are back behind their counter. Last week, Jalat Patel declined to comment.

The Riebels and the three other members of the core group of protesters say they won't stop until a decision is made. Town officials will discuss the issue at a monthly caucus meeting Wednesday, when residents may comment, and Bellmawr Police Chief William Walsh will brief officials on what actions they could take.

The state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control said it is investigating the Patels but likely won't act until the conclusion of any criminal case.

It may be months until any of the five men faces trial. So the protesters are trying the two establishments in the court of public opinion.

The 'good people'

"This store sells heroin!" Don Riebel's neon-yellow sign reads. "Heroin killed my son!"

Colin Riebel died of a heroin overdose three years ago at age 22. His parents say his addiction began at age 15 with football injuries and Percocet prescriptions. When they protest, the Riebels wear T-shirts with Colin's picture on the front.

At a recent protest, patrons flowed in and out of the store, mainly ignoring the protesters, but sometimes engaging with them.

"Well, it hasn't been proven yet," said Joe Pettit, 74, who lives just a few minutes' drive from the shop, as he walked out with a pack of beers.

Some customers, exiting with brown bags in hand, defend the Patels. The protesters have become controversial in town not just for picketing but for the side of the street they have chosen.

"There is a big [drug] epidemic, but these are not the people to be blaming," said Michelle Sylvester, 55, who lives in Gloucester City and has been coming to Johnnies for 16 years.

Sylvester, who lost a son to drug abuse, said she sympathizes with the Riebels, but hates that their protests are hurting the "good people" who own Johnnies.

"They should be across the street," she said, gesturing to the laundromat.

The picketers used to stand outside the laundromat, too, but said they found that patrons there were more hostile. Now, they mainly stand outside Johnnies, where the owners - who protesters say called the police during their first protest - watch from the windows but do not interfere.

Meanwhile, James Pumphrey, who visits Johnnies twice a day to play the lottery, defends the Patels, reasoning that had anything illicit been found in their store, it would have been shut down.

The Patels are innocent, Pumphrey says.

"There were two raids that day," Bobbie Lynn Riebel reminds patrons who make that argument.

Part of this split stems from a lack of information.

The Camden County Prosecutor's Office news release that reported the bust enumerated a host of drugs but did not specify what was found where.

Records show Green with the most charges - eight counts of possession of heroin and crack cocaine, seven counts of distribution of heroin and crack cocaine, and one count of manufacturing a Controlled Dangerous Substance.

Rosario was charged with four counts of possession of oxycodone pills and four of distribution.

The three Patels each were charged with one count of possession and intent to distribute oxycodone, with an additional charge for doing so in a school zone.

Richard Friedman, the lawyer defending Jalat Patel, said no drugs other than oxycodone were found on the premises.

But because they don't know which drugs were found where, town residents aren't sure whom to boycott.

The difference of opinion emerges in spats between protesters and patrons. Some tout police and media summaries of the incident, while others question them.

Authorities say they cannot specify which substances were found where while the investigation continues.

"I don't know what happened; all I know is that what we've read is wrong," one woman told the Riebels as she walked out of the liquor store.

Many passersby direct their lingering questions to the protesters.

"But how do you know?" asked a woman in a black Ford Focus, who pulled over. Bobbie Lynn Riebel leaned into the passenger-side window to talk.

Few employees

Across the street at the laundromat, business has not really slowed, according to Sam Singh, who owns the establishment. After all, everyone needs to wash clothes.

The laundromat is entirely self-service. Most of the time, no employee is inside; Rosario worked no more than two hours a day, trimming the lawn in front of the store and sweeping inside. There is only one other employee.

Singh said he only comes to the store every week or two to collect the money from the safe.

Game machines line a wall in the laundromat. Children chase one another, killing time as their parents fold clothes on a table.

Outside, parents push babies in strollers and children ride bikes, stopping into corner shops like Johnnies and the laundromat for a bag of chips or a Coke. There are two elementary schools within a mile.

Singh considers the protesters' calls to close the store absurd.

"If a machine's broken, you think I'm going to close the store?" he said. "No. I'm going to fix the machine."

Out on West Browning Road, the protesters' waving signs are particularly bright in the evening, when the neons stand out against the sunset.

"Thank you!" a driver calls out her window.

"You're welcome!" Bobbie Lynn Riebel says.

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