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Protests Lead to Looting of US Jewelry Stores

Thieves have smashed store windows and displays, stolen merchandise, and destroyed premises, owners say.
Jun 4, 2020 5:39 AM   By Leah Meirovich
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RAPAPORT... Many US jewelers are coping with stolen property and the destruction of their premises following major looting sprees amid protests over the death of George Floyd.

“It was like a war zone,” said Mark Clodius, owner of Clodius & Co. Jewelers in Rockford, Illinois, whose store was hit. “This has nothing to do with the protest. It was entirely for ill-gotten gain.”

Clodius, who hadn’t yet had a chance to open his store following the Covid-19 shutdown, believes criminal gangs used the protests over the death of Floyd — a 46-year old African-American man killed while in police custody — as a cover for the robberies.

“These were planned attacks,” he noted. “A riot or disturbance was made downtown at the police station, and then many vehicles, we’re talking about dozens and dozens of vehicles, went out and simultaneously hit every jewelry store in our city, miles away from where the protests were happening.”

In Clodius’s security footage, a chain of men used 50-pound concrete construction blocks to smash the windows of the store, then pass merchandise out to the waiting cars. While other jewelers in the area lost a lot of high-value stock, Clodius had taken the precaution of locking up his more expensive goods.

“They took a lot of sample jewelry, and sterling silver, worth about $40,000 to $50,000,” he said. “Which is bad, but we have an inventory of about $2 million that was locked away. It’s more about the damage to the store than the actual jewelry itself.”

Growing numbers

Clodius’s story is not unique. Thieves also targeted Goodman & Sons Jewelers in Hampton, Virginia, despite attempts to divert attention from the store by turning off the logo lights so looters wouldn’t identify it as a jewelry shop. Thanks to security measures, the retailer only suffered a smashed window pane.

“We have a security camera out front that we had installed…for identifying customers with masks during the pandemic,” said owner Tony Goodman. “I was able to watch all of this unfold and manually set the siren on the camera, which helped deter progress. We also locked every piece of jewelry up in the safe, and I cannot stress enough the importance of doing this. I heard [through the camera] one of the potential looters say, ‘It’s empty, man’ when looking in, so it helped. I think had they seen even the smallest amount of product, they were coming in.”

The popular Facebook group Jewelers Helping Jewelers has more than 50 posts from jewelers throughout the country whose stores have been hit by looters.

“The numbers are insane,” said Aleah Arundale, who founded the group. “I don’t have a count but I only know one store in Chicago not hit. Some stores only a bulldozer can fix. People have posted about lootings in St. Louis, Grand Rapids, Louisville, even Selma, Alabama. Police could do nothing. Even in small towns they were overpowered.”

Jewelers of America (JA) and the Diamond Council of America have started the Jewelers Relief Fund to provide financial help to those who have been affected by the lootings. The fund allows jewelry retailers to apply for aid, while other industry members can donate to help those in need.

“Over 100 jewelry stores across the country have been damaged during the current protests taking place in the United States,” JA CEO David Bonaparte told Rapaport News. “Jewelry stores have been dealt a blow and are having to board up their windows and take extra measures to protect their businesses.”

Reducing the target

According to preliminary information the Jewelers’ Security Alliance (JSA) has gathered, the hardest-hit cities are Chicago, Atlanta and Minneapolis, and most of the lootings have occurred at downtown independent jewelers, not malls or chain jewelry stores.

“In almost all cases the break-ins involved property damage to the store: windows, doors and showcases,” JSA president John Kennedy told Rapaport News. “Very little product was taken since jewelers had put away all their inventory in the safe or vault.”

While jewelry stores are the looters’ prime targets, how they pick a particular retailer is random, Kennedy said. While high-end stores are generally larger targets, it depends on the route of the protest march, since the looters infiltrate the legitimate protesters in order to conceal themselves, he added.

JSA has listed a number of recommendations jewelers can employ to keep themselves and their merchandise as safe as possible. Kennedy suggests jewelers follow local news and social media to be aware if the situation in their area is hot, and decide whether to close. They should also board up windows if possible, and stash all merchandise in safes and drawers.

Long-term repercussions

For an industry that was already suffering a major blow from the coronavirus, the looting has set back the US trade even more. Many jewelers are closing down recently reopened shops in fear.

Stewart Brandt, owner of H. Brandt Jewelers in Natick, Massachusetts, spoke with two jewelers he knows in Los Angeles and Minneapolis, both of whom had been hit. “They’re devastated,” he noted. “One [jeweler] friend told me he’s done. He’s cashing in his chips, it’s too much.”

The monetary aspect is just one part of it, according to Brandt. The bigger issue is the current mindset jewelers face.

“Our financial health is not in peril, but our mental health is really starting to break down,” he noted. “I think that’s really the part that’s going to be somewhat harder to recover from, and more so for those who have been hit. You’re closed, and you’re afraid to open back up.”

Jewelers helping jewelers

Many jewelers in Arundale’s group have reached out to offer help to those affected, with posters offering to donate showcases, necklace display and other supplies.

“It’s awesome that there are people in our business offering to help like that,” Clodius said. “There are just such good people in this industry.”

Image: A looted US jewelry store. (Aleah Arundale/Jewelers Helping Jewelers/Facebook)
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タグ: Aleah Arundale, Clodius & Co, COVID-19, David Bonaparte, Diamond Council of America, George Floyd, Goodman & Sons Jewelers, H. Brandt Jewelers, ja, Jewelers Helping Jewelers, Jewelers of America, Jewelers Relief Fund, Jewelers’ Security Alliance, John Kennedy, JSA, Leah Meirovich, Looting, Mark Clodius, Rapaport News, Stewart Brandt, Tony Goodman, US jewelry stores
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