Burglaries dim Annapolis' cheer

After break-ins on Main Street, merchants call for more patrols

December 19, 2007|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,sun reporter

Anyone walking along Annapolis' Main Street receives an optical treat of sorts during the holiday season when businesses display their merchandise through windows festooned with snowflake decorations and garland.

But at Embassy Opticians, an Annapolis mainstay for more than a quarter century, the owners are rethinking the festive displays after two burglaries in less than a week left the store in the red with thousands of dollars in stolen merchandise.

The latest incident Monday, in which a large rock wrapped inside a child-sized Orioles T-shirt was apparently used to break a storefront window, brought the amount of stolen designer frames and sunglasses to about $6,000 - an especially tough hit for a small retailer during the holiday season.

The store was struck in similar fashion Thursday - that time the assailants used a brick wrapped in another T-shirt to break another window and steal about a dozen pairs of glasses, made by designers such as Vera Wang and Ralph Lauren.

"We're just a couple, a young couple, just trying to make it with a small business," said Colleen Shields, who has owned the store for the past year with her optician husband, George B. Shields. "It's really disconcerting. We lost business this morning. We had to turn people away."

Annapolis police spokeswoman Cpl. Jennifer Crews-Carey said the incidents are under investigation. She added that burglaries of downtown businesses occur "in waves" and that the area is well-patrolled by the police almost around the clock.

"All the jewelry stores downtown take the merchandise out of the windows at night, just so they don't become the victims of these smash and grabs," Crews-Carey said. "I'm going to ask them to do that."

Shields acknowledged that "we do have high-end products here. This culture that we have of these young people sort of brand-obsessed. And we have Versace and Gucci and Kate Spade. So it doesn't help."

On Thursday, the Annapolis couple got a call from police about 6:30 a.m. and rushed to the store to find the window on the right side of the building's front smashed and two shelves of merchandise gone. Then on Monday about 4 a.m., an officer on patrol noticed another window at the store was broken. A similar number of pairs of glasses - about a dozen - were stolen in both incidents.

Shields said she plans to have shatter-proof glass windows installed and is investing in security cameras and motion detectors as a deterrent to would-be robbers.

"This is Main Street," Shields said. "Clearly, you wouldn't think something like this would happen. It's the Main Street of Annapolis. It's very disturbing. It's historic Annapolis. It's something that deserves attention. They should consider increasing foot patrols."

C. Chance Walgran, manager at the neighboring Laurance Clothing and a board member of the Annapolis Business Association, said burglaries along Main Street are commonplace. He said an increased police presence along the stretch would perhaps help deter criminals.

"Is it an ongoing problem? Yeah. I've lost count on the number of businesses on Main Street that have had their windows busted out," Walgran said.

The couple is offering a $5,000 reward for information that helps solve the case.

"My husband's ready to spend the night in his sleeping bag on the floor to catch them," Shields said.

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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