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Take heed, shoplifters

By Staff | Dec 18, 2009

Shepherdstown Police Chief Tim Johnson

During the bustle of holiday shopping season as local store owners are diligently serving customers, a shoplifter might think about slipping out the door with stolen merchandise.

Note to shoplifters: Steer clear of Shepherdstown.

Above the rumble of coffee beans grinding (regular drip) Tuesday, Deb Luksa manages a “Thank you very much – have a great Christmas!” to a departing customer. Luksa’s German Street Coffee & Candlery storeroom was burglarized last weekend in broad daylight, but she cautions that, despite the theft, shoplifters won’t have an easy time here. She’s been in business long enough to recognize suspicious behavior, and she alerts her fellow merchants.

“It’s up and down the street within five minutes,” Luksa said. “We do now and always have tried to take care of each other. I don’t know if other places have that.”

After a rash of reported shoplifting incidents at downtown stores in recent weeks, Shepherdstown’s Police Chief Tim Johnson has teamed with local merchants, offering tips on how to prevent theft.

Johnson’s first suggestion: Call the police as soon as you suspect a shoplifter.

“Just our presence in the store is often going to deter anything that might go on,” Johnson said this week.

Last Saturday afternoon, Shepherdstown Patrolman Jack Fleagle responded to the theft from Coffee & Candlery. That investigation is ongoing, and Johnson noted there was no forced entry to gain access to the store.

Meanwhile, several shop owners sent out e-mails to each other about a couple who had reportedly been working together to shoplift items from local establishments. Johnson said no one has been able to provide enough information for an arrest. “There’s not a real good description of them,” he said. The department is “still looking into that,” he added.

He emphasized store owners shouldn’t wait to notify police.

“If you have somebody you think is stealing, just call,” he said. “I’ll come up.”

Shoplifters have targeted On the Wings of Dreams twice in the past few weeks, stealing books and a silver bracelet, said owner Laura Rau.

“It’s hard to understand why people would pick on this town,” Rau said, noting “… the episodes that I’ve seen are people from out of town.”

Rau said at least two other stores on German Street also have reported shoplifting in recent weeks.

“It seems to be increasing,” Rau said. Shepherdstown operators also are communicating through Google groups via e-mail. As soon as an incident occurs, all the members of the Shepherdstown Business Association are notified.

“I think the business community is working very well together,” Rau said, commending the Police Department for being very cooperative.

“We don’t want to become known as easy targets here, and we’re going to do everything we can to deter that kind of thing,” Rau said. “It’s like somebody coming into my home and stealing from me. You feel violated, I guess is the word.”

Rau said it’s “easy enough to say ‘Yes,people are having to resort to this.'” during a recession, but she feels karma will repay those who steal.

“It’s a small community,” Rau said. “When this stuff is going on, it hurts. … It hurts the community in these hard times.”