Small time crooks cost businesses big bucks

Behind the front counter at Porter Creek’s Centennial Video sits a mean-looking axe with a message taped to its handle.

Behind the front counter at Porter Creek’s Centennial Video sits a mean-looking axe with a message taped to its handle.

It reads: “Lost and Found — Does this belong to you?”

The store’s proprietor, Francine Girouard, found the rusty, battered axe amid a sea of broken window glass on the floor of her Porter Creek movie store on Saturday morning.

Now Girouard is looking for its owner in hopes it will lead her to the culprits behind a string of petty thefts that has hit her shop, and a neighbouring business, over the past six months.

“You have to have a sense of humour about these things,” said Girouard, as she picked up the tool that still had a piece of window glass embedded in its wooden hilt on Tuesday.

The thieves who smashed her front window last Friday only made off with $1.50 in rolled pennies and a small box of old movies worth between $400 and $500, said Girouard.

Although they have only taken trifles, the total costs add up quickly when you’re paying to repair broken windows and doors, said Girouard.

“They call it petty theft, but it’s not petty when you start adding up all the costs,” she said.

“It’s draining small business big time; I’m a single person and this is all I’ve got.

“I’m going to have to sell a lot of movie rentals at $3 or $4 to make up the costs.”

Next door at the Green Garden Restaurant, owner Ken Choi has five business cards with RCMP file numbers — one for each time he’s called the cops to his restaurant after a robbery.

He also has receipts for the sums he’s paid to fix broken windows: $742. The broken door cost another $634.

Green Garden was last robbed on Christmas Eve.

A crook shattered the front window, which set off the alarm and elicited a call from the restaurant’s security company, rousing Choi from sleep.

When he got to the restaurant, the thief was long gone, but only a half-full bottle of wine was missing from the premises.

“I know, it’s crazy,” said Choi, who pegged the bottle to be worth about $30.

Like Girouard, Choi is frustrated with the high cost of the robberies.

“I lose too much money,” he said.

Green Garden has been at its Centennial Street location for eight years, and has not seen a string of break-ins like this before.

It’s become so bad that Choi has started doing his own midnight patrols of the premises.

He also makes sure he’s taken everything worth stealing home with him when he shuts down shop for the evening.

“Every penny I have, I take home now,” he said.

The thefts began with one “big break-in” in September.

“Two youths were identified and charged in that incident,” said RCMP Cpl. Grant MacDonald.

But the break-ins have not stopped.

They have cost the two businesses “well over $10,000 in damage and theft since September,” said Girouard.

“The RCMP tells us to install alarms and cameras but that’s just going to deter them, it isn’t going to stop the thefts,” she said.

“By the time they get out there, the thieves are long gone.”

The RCMP has not noticed a spike in break and enters in local homes or businesses in Porter Creek, said MacDonald.

Both marked and unmarked police cars patrol the entire city on a regular basis 24-hours a day and night, he added.

CRIME

Mask grab takes gallery

out of the business

Downtown Whitehorse’s North End Gallery has stopped selling handmade masks from local First Nations carvers.

“I only had one more mask on the wall and that was stolen; now I have no more masks,” said gallery owner Art Webster on Tuesday.

“I have no more masks to be stolen.”

Webster had a rude awakening Saturday at 6:50 a.m. when a call from his security company alerted him to a break-in at the gallery on the corner of First Avenue and Steele Street in downtown Whitehorse.

Thieves smashed the window and made off with a unique hand-carved mask.

The birch mask, by Tutchone/Tlingit artist Christina Peters, was valued at $2,400.

It measured about 40 centimetres by 30 centimetres and weighed about a kilogram, said Webster.

It depicted a sun figure on the forehead of a larger face painted in black and red and inset with abalone shell highlights.

“I don’t have any hope of getting it back,” said Webster.

“There’s obviously a market out there for someone who is collecting masks and they don’t want to go in and buy them like most people.

“So they have someone else steal them.”

Webster made a decision to stop ordering the unique pieces of art eight months ago, partly due to a big-time break-in that happened in December 2005.

At that time thieves broke into the gallery and made off with five handmade masks worth between $1,200 and $3,800.

The method behind both smash-and-grabs was the same — thieves shattered the store’s front window, grabbed the masks and pocketed a few pieces of jewelry, almost as an afterthought, said Webster.

So far Webster has had no leads on that investigation.

The local RCMP is advising businesses to take precautions against break-ins by installing lights, alarms, surveillance systems, motion sensors and limiting the amount of money left on the premises overnight.

They are also asking anyone with information to contact the detachment at 667-5571 or Crime Stoppers at 1-880-222-TIPS.