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Thieves targeting local small businesses, getting away with thousands in merchandise

Instead of calling police, they call each other
Posted at 8:38 PM, Jul 18, 2016

Small unique stores draw the attention of customers, but these "mom-and-pop" boutiques are also inviting to criminals.

"We don't have security guards, we don't have buzzers at the door, and we have fewer employees... So, yes, I would definitely say we are a target," said Patti Thomas, co-owner of Little Peeps, a children's store in South Tampa.

Wendy Guzzle, who owns nearby dress shop Kate MacKenzie agrees. She has had thousands of dollars stolen and very little recuperated.

"When I talked to the police about it, they said you can lock the door or you can ask people not come into the store, but I do not think that is a viable option," said Guzzle. "Unless they are caught red-handed by the police, they will tell you there is nothing they can do."

Sara Quintero, owner of Sara's Karma Chic Boutique, said she's been robbed twice in the past several weeks. She went as far as chasing one shoplifter down, even capturing photos of stolen merchandise. She spread the word on social media.

Angela McCollum, who works at The Look Boutique, can relate.

"Once they leave, you can’t do anything," said McCollum.

And in a city where Tampa police worked close to 1,300 shoplifting cases last year, these store owners have decided to help themselves. They've taken extra precautions in the stores like locking up more expensive merchandise and even limiting the number of customers or merchandise allowed in a dressing room.

But the best solution? Instead of calling police, they call each other.

"Yes, it has been great. You feel more comfortable; you got the door locked and you look out for that person," said Thomas.

The Facebook post of the stolen merchandise spread quickly, and owners said the more they can get the word out, the better they can protect their livelihood.