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Jewelry Stores Hard-Hit by Looting, Vandalism and Burglary

National reports of damage are severe and widespread, but incomplete, according to the Jewelers Security Alliance.

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Steve Quick Jeweler

Steve and Melissa Quick of Steve Quick Jeweler in Chicago are amazed that they avoided substantial damage when their store was attacked on Saturday.

LATE SATURDAY NIGHT, Mark and Monica Clodius were standing alone inside their storefront, which had been shattered by burglars, clutching firearms they hadn’t touched in years, while cars slowly circled through the parking lot of their Rockford, IL, store, Clodius & Co.

After their store had been burglarized that night, police had arrived promptly, cleared the scene and then suggesting the couple arm themselves. The police were called to multiple store alarms all over Rockford that night and weren’t able to stay until the building was secured.

Not seeing any viable options, they decided to take that suggestion while they waited for reinforcements.

“Monika had the pistol, I had a high-powered military type rifle,” Mark says. “Monika stayed in the store behind me brandishing her pistol as I stood in the smashed-out vestibule holding the rifle at the ready. Cars came through our parking lot, saw us and drove off, only to have the same or new vehicles arrive again and again over 20 to 30 some minutes. The police drove through several times as well to check on us.”

Mark said the attack on their store was an organized effort by criminals to commit burglary, not a random incident perpetrated by looters, vandals or protesters making a point about the homicide of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police. Their store and others hit that night were miles from any protest site. The burglars had accessed the store by breaking shatter-resistant glass with tools and with landscaping rocks they tore from a wall. They had come prepared.

Although Mark said they weren’t frightened in the moment, it did have an air of surrealism. “It was eerie, so many sirens, emergency vehicles going every which way, it was citywide, not downtown. We were all alone, reaching out on cell phones to staff and friends,” Mark says.

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Soon staff began to arrive to help them seal up the store with plywood and bolts they had stored in case of disaster. Finally, they were able to reset their alarm and go home at 3:30 a.m.

Clodius & Co. had reopened to the public just a little more than 24 hours before, after being shut down by the state for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The weekend cleanup took hours; friends helped them the next day search through grass and mulch with metal detectors to find scattered jewelry, although most inventory had been secured in the safe.

Mark said he feared that if they left the store wide open, they would not be covered by insurance if burglars returned to inflict further loss. “The Jewelers Security Alliance advises you to not arm yourself, and if it were actually a riot, that may not have been a good idea,” he says. “But for us, at that moment, we were able to protect both our persons and property.”

Garry Zimmerman of Windy City Diamonds in Chicago, like many jewelers around the country, was forced to watch in real time on cameras monitored at his home while looters destroyed his store, “just for fun,” he says, not once, but twice.

Windy City Diamonds in Chicago

Windy City Diamonds in Chicago

On Friday, the store was entered and two large picture windows were broken. After Zimmerman spent 11 hours on Saturday with two crews cleaning up the store and boarding up the windows, the looters returned that night to finish destroying the store. All merchandise was safely locked in the vault, but every piece of glass and equipment in the store was deliberately broken.

“It’s just terrible what happened,” Zimmerman says, “but we will rebuild and be back stronger than ever.”

John Kennedy of the JSA said in a Jewelers of America webinar on Tuesday that, of the 115 reports of damage at jewelry stores the organization had received over the weekend, Illinois was the hardest hit. Kennedy also emphasized that the estimate was low and based only on initial reports. “It’s been severe. It’s way more than that,” he says. “We just don’t have the reports yet.” Kennedy advised jewelers to clear their cases of all inventory and to leave them unlocked and uncovered if they believe they are under threat of looting or vandalism.

He also said jewelers who do attempt to defend their property with lethal force could face civil and even criminal liability in certain states. They also risk being overwhelmed by large rioting crowds in some cities. “We’ve seen 30 people going into stores,” he says. He cited the example of a security guard hired to protect a jewelry and loan business in St. Louis, who was shot to death on Monday night.

Also on Saturday, Cullen Wulf, a Chicago resident who owns Aaland Diamond Jewelers in Merrillville, IN, walked around Chicago’s River North neighborhood, filming street after street of smashed storefronts, while expressing incredulity at the widespread property damage. “Everywhere I turn, there’s more destruction,” he said in a video. But by 10 p.m. Saturday, the destruction had hit even closer to his interests when his alarm company called to say his own store in Indiana had been smashed to bits. Luckily, he says, anything of value was in the safe, but the destruction was absolute. “They smashed through displays everywhere. There’s glass behind my counter, which is 10 feet from the front door. They flipped over this case; I mean why? Why was that necessary? I felt sympathy for those business owners and now I’m one of those business owners.

Aaland Jewelers looted

Aaland Jewelers in Merrillville, IN

“It was devastating to get that call and see the store in such bad shape, but the most important thing is that nobody was injured,” he says. “The community as a whole is still tense but from the sound of it the people that did this to my store came over from Illinois into Indiana,” he says. “This destruction was not caused by locals.”

By Tuesday the store was almost entirely cleaned up with the exception of the case glass and front doors, which will be replaced this week. He’s anticipating being nearly fully back to normal by next Tuesday.

“We’ll be OK, big picture,” Wulf says. “We’ll power through. We’ll take the opportunity to update the showroom, to make improvements we’ve been thinking about.”

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Steve and Melissa Quick of Steve Quick Jeweler in Chicago say they are amazed that they avoided substantial damage when their store was attacked on Saturday.

At one point we had 15 or so people in the store ransacking it,” Melissa says. “Thankfully they left our showcases alone, so we don’t have to rebuild.”

A video captures bricks flying through the side window before someone hits the front window with a baseball bat. “They were in, grabbed what they thought was valuable and bolted for their (three) waiting cars.”

There was so much damage in the city it was nearly impossible to find a company to board up the windows or even wood for that matter, but finally they did.

It’s been an emotional roller-coaster of a week with no clear end in sight to the tension in the city.

Looting continued on Sunday. “We kept hearing stories of the looting getting closer and closer to us, but we were up for almost 38 hours straight and didn’t think we could be at the store anymore.” A friend who owns a nearby restaurant watched the store for them Sunday night and chased away two groups of looters headed their way.

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On Monday night, Steve saw a group of 40 men passing the store, and, feeling rattled amid rumors of newly arrived anarchists, decided to leave quickly. They found a security company to guard their store through the night, while a shoe store a block away was completely emptied. On Tuesday, a huge afternoon protest unnerved them again, but turned out to be serious and peaceful.

“We have no idea what to expect tonight (Tuesday) and are probably going to hire guards again,” Melissa says.

Melissa also spent time on Tuesday painting messages of love for the community on neighboring businesses’ plywood, which the Quicks had done to their own storefront before and after it was smashed. “So, for now, I am up again,” she says.

Today (Wednesday) is the first day Chicago stores can officially open post COVID-19 shutdown. “We have decided to do a very soft open this weekend and see how much of this blows over,” Melissa says.

Bensons Jewelers, Washington, DC

Bensons Jewelers, Washington, DC

The scariest moments of Ken Stein’s life came at about 2 a.m. Monday morning as he swept broken glass from the floor of his store, Bensons Jewelers in Washington, D.C, after it had been damaged and looted Sunday night.

“A gang of 10 young punks come to my door, yelling `Get on the floor. We’re coming in.’ Stein says. “I held up my broomstick and said, `No, we’re already robbed, thank you anyway! One guy decided to spit in my face and left. That didn’t sit well with me. But it could have gone either way. They could have just jumped over the broken glass in the door and come in.”

Stein called 911 and the police officer who had taken his report earlier returned to the store and stayed there for three hours until it could be secured. “I felt I should be there if I could, otherwise they might come back and take whatever was left.”

Stein lost $125,000 in inventory, as well as 12 showcases, two doors and mirrors.

“I know I left too much inventory out. They got in and out really fast, in about two minutes. Jewelry stores are their easiest mark. Restaurants, what are they going to do? Grab a hamburger?”

“I don’t know how to survive this. On top of COVID, this is going to be the added straw. What do I do now?”

Members of INSTORE’s Brain Squad, responding to a survey on Tuesday, also reported they were targeted or otherwise impacted by vandalism and looting, which have occurred amidst nationwide protests stemming from the homicide of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Kevin Kelly Jewelers in Peoria, IL

Kevin Kelly Jewelers in Peoria, IL

Kevin Kelly of Kevin Kelly Jewelers in Peoria, IL, reopened his business post-COVID shutdown on Friday, was vandalized at 2:30 a.m. Monday, but managed to rebound very quickly.

“They threw rocks through the windows, which also damaged a couple of show cases,” he says.

Still, he was able to clean up the mess and have the windows boarded up in time to open at 10 a.m. the same day. “One day later, except for the plywood over a couple of windows, it is pretty much business, not quite as usual, but just as it was in mid-March,” he says.

Peoria is a midsize city with a population of 100,000 or so and Kevin Kelly Jewelers is in an area of town with minimal crime. Nevertheless, he learned that on Sunday night into Monday morning criminals were creating distractions by shooting guns and starting Dumpster fires all over town to keep police moving.

Cooperation among local jewelers helped him avoid major losses. The day before the vandalism, another local jeweler sent out an email warning of signs that jewelry stores were going to be targeted, allowing an exchange of ideas among them. Kelly made sure all regular valuables were locked up and that silver and alloy were hidden. The laser was moved to a back room and he created a video showing computers and other equipment he wasn’t able to hide.

Kelly plans to add security cameras outside. “With our current camera system, we could see seven cars pull up in front of our store. Later we heard reports of caravans of 40 or more cars running around. If I thought I was going to be able to scare anybody off, it looks like I would have been quite outnumbered.”

Still, he is undaunted; he’ll celebrate 40 years in business in October.

“I have been blessed to have a spouse who has worked side by side with me from the start,” he says. “When we would have been smart to quit, she never questioned me. I’ve been lucky enough to add some very key employees along the way and have created some great friendships within the industry. The pandemic and the vandalism are just another couple of the hard times we’ve faced but as of yet, none of the tough times have been tougher than us.”

Goodman’s Jewelers in Madison, WI

Goodman’s Jewelers in Madison, WI

John Hayes of Goodman’s Jewelers in Madison, WI, closed on March 23 and reopened on May 26. He had five promising days of business before his store was damaged by burglars on Saturday. “I’m not sure how long we will be closed now; it depends on how soon we can get the cases repaired, carpet replaced and a new front door,” he says. “We have a lot of damage to repair, but we will get through this together. I do think they were criminals taking advantage of the situation. We were the first ones they hit but the majority of jewelry stores in town suffered damage as well. I think it was a premeditated event. The advice I would give is to make sure ALL merchandise is secured and cover any windows and doors to hopefully prevent the damage we incurred. The people who are doing this are not the ones that have a legitimate reason for protesting.”

“We were looted,” says Steven Goldfarb of Alvin Goldfarb Jeweler in Bellevue, WA. “The mess created was incredible, although once broken glass was cleaned up it was not as heartbreaking. Boarded windows look like a war zone. We have hired guards at night. We will be adding more security in the future such as roll-down gates, security cameras, and flood lights for the parking lot.”

David Kammeraad of Preusser Jewelers in Grand Rapids, MI, says looters “destroyed his store inside and out, thieved, had a fun time. I got to watch it on TV. Made my night!” Damage, he says, is extensive and will exceed the financial relief he was able to obtain through the Paycheck Protection Plan for the COVID-19 shutdown. As a renter, he says, he can’t do much to prevent further damage. “The plywood has been a stunning addition,” he says. “But the community response post vandalism was amazing and heartwarming.”

Talisman Collection, CA

Talisman Collection, El Dorado Hills, CA

Andrea Riso of Talisman Collection Fine Jewelers in El Dorado Hills, CA, says the National Guard has been called in to protect her neighborhood, because the state is anticipating looting will spill over from Sacramento, where jewelry stores were decimated beyond recognition, she says, over the weekend. Concrete road barriers set up by the National Guard diverted more than 1,000 people from her town on Monday night. “Hundreds of jewelry stores in California were looted and smashed. We have to close early, and all jewelry is off site. It’s terrible. I don’t think we will get looted with all the police and military presence, but who knows?”

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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