Aspen store owners band together in the wake of jewelry theft | AspenTimes.com

Aspen store owners band together in the wake of jewelry theft

Charles Agar
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Aspen jewelers are banning together in the wake of two recent jewelry heists totaling more than $600,000. Police, meanwhile, expressed confidence Friday that an arrest will be made.

“I feel like we have a very, very viable investigation going and we’re making process,” Aspen Sgt. Bill Linn said.

Police have collected video of the five suspects who allegedly hit Meridian in 2006, stole more than $100,000 in goods from McHugh Antiques on Dec. 1, and some $500,000 from Buccellati, an East Hopkins Avenue store, on Tuesday.

Aspen officials are working with other jurisdictions to track down the suspects, Linn said.

Joel Soroka, a Hyman Avenue gallery owner, called police after he saw a suspicious man in his gallery at 1:30 p.m. on Friday. The man Soroka described as having an Eastern European accent was “swarthy, handsome and about 6 feet tall” and had slightly graying hair and wore an overcoat and sunglasses.

Shortly after the man left the gallery, Soroka spotted a newspaper article and matching description of one jewel heist suspect.

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“My feeling was that it could very well have been the same man,” Soroka said. “And I thought it was the smart thing to do to call the police.”

“I don’t know if we have enough to substantiate it either way,” Linn said.

To that end, on Friday morning, some 14 jewelry retailers met at Cindy Griem Fine Jewelers on Mill Street to discuss way to prevent future problems, especially during the frenetic high-season weeks.

“It was very informative,” Griem said.

Linn and other Aspen police officers were on hand to provide photos and descriptions of scenarios and field concerns. The group talked about better strategies, ranging from better communication to improved security, Griem said.

“There’s a lot of people that are understaffed this time of year,” Griem said, referring to both police and area stores.

Local police, however, are “doing the best they can with what they’ve got,” she added.

“This has never been a problem in this town,” Griem said, and she hopes it won’t happen again, but said, “You always find better communication after bad things happen.”

As a result of the meeting, local jewelers have a list and are in communication, and Griem invited other retailers to contact her or representatives from Meridian Jewelers to share information.

“I appreciate the frustration,” Linn said.

He added: “I wish we had put the pictures out to the public sooner.”

Linn noted that police response in the wake of the Dec. 1 heist at McHugh’s was “measured.”

Linn phoned every jewelry store after the first incident. Although he didn’t reach every business in the phone book, he said he contacted all he could.

Aspen police detective Chris Womack said there are a number of steps local store owners can take to prevent any further incident.

“Having a security guard is definitely a deterrent,” Womack said.

While adding security staff is expensive, Womack suggests store owners take even minor precautions, such as making sure that the store isn’t manned by one person at any time or installing a small bell that tells visitors that store staff know when the door opens.

Just greeting a person at a store entrance with a “can I help you?” is not just good business practice, but lets customers know they’ve been noticed, Womack said.

Womack said Aspen police staff will conduct a free security assessment of a store.

“We’ll provide anyone information on how to keep their store safe,” Womack said.

The Bulgari jewelry store in Aspen has not had any thefts, and Willie Wilson of Special Protective Services said it is because of the in-store security guard.

“It’s the best way,” Wilson said. “It’s all about having enough eyes to cover the store.”

Wilson received a report that the thieves allegedly looked in the store window on Tuesday and moved on when they spotted the guard. And preventing theft at Bulgaria is not about being lucky but being “prepared.”

cagar@aspentimes.com