SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — It happens within minutes. Swarms of thieves use tools to bash into a store and quickly swipe thousands of dollars worth of merchandise, and business owners in Memphis are fed up.
“They are professional roaches,” said Dominique Worthen.
He owns Snkrr Bar on Madison Avenue.
“What we are known for is restoring sneakers,” Worthen said. “Long story short, it’s a sneaker laundry mat essentially.”
After opening in 2021, his services were soon sought-after. The business began booming and the crooks caught on.
“I could not believe the first time we got broken into,” he said.
Or that it would happen two more times within months. The incidents were similar. A group of thieves bashed in the front glass of his business and climbed through.
Worthen shared this security footage from one of the break-ins
“Playing back the footage it seems like they were here for a lifetime. It’s like oh my God,” he said.
In reality, it only took one minute and 25 seconds to clear the shelves. They grabbed every sneaker they could before bolting.
Each time, the loss was crippling.
Worthen said it was worth “six figures worth of merchandise and shoes” including the shoes he stowed away for his charity. Shoes he planned to give to the homeless.
“It’s very bad for business. It’s very bad for the community. It’s very bad for the economy of Memphis,” he said.
Nicknamed for what they look like, smash-and-grabs have recently made our headlines.
At least twenty people cleared out most of Valid Kixx shoe store in Hickory Hill in November.
This month, cameras also caught this trio wielding hammers in Mr. Gold Box in Wolfchase. They shattered glass cases and stuffed their backpacks with $30,000 worth of jewelry.
It’s a trend that’s happening nationwide. The National Retail Federation says reports of organized retail crime are up thirty percent.
“It is a very popular crime. It’s very easy to do,” said an undercover deputy with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. He is with a special unit working to nab those responsible.
“I would say fifty, sixty percent of the time it’s local guys. The rest, we definitely have encountered a lot of traveling groups,” he said.
He said they’ve been busy lately.
SCSO responded to 28 smash-and-grab commercial burglaries last year. That’s double the amount compared to 2021, and higher than 2020’s number. Keep in mind, that doesn’t include the many smash-and-grabs reported within Memphis city limits.
“It’s becoming a popular thing, especially with a lot of younger suspects. It’s really fast to sell on the street,” the undercover deputy said.
He said thieves typically target high-end items that don’t have a serial number, so it’s hard to track. They’ll even sell them at lower prices, so there’s no shortage of buyers.
Data shows common places hit are gas stations and convenience stores, but last year, liquor stores were added to that list. CrimeStoppers says in a matter of months last year, more than 40 were hit.
In December, authorities announced more than a dozen arrests.
It was a taste of justice finally for the business owners. It helped ease the pain they endured from the cost of repairs, the merchandise that had to be replaced, the insurance premiums that went up, and the customers they lost.
“We survived the worst that can happen three times,” Worthen said. “It’s just part of doing business in a city in the condition we are in I guess.”
Worthen told WREG he has since made major security upgrades to Snkrr Bar, but said security is just a band-aid. He thinks the crime will continue to happen until there’s real change.
“I honestly think it starts with education and having individuals understand there is more than one way to take care of yourself,” he said.
He knows that firsthand.
“I have been around crime all my life. I grew up with absolutely nothing. I grew up watching it all the time, but you got to make a decision to be better than your surroundings,” Worthen said “You can do it without breaking any laws.”
These burglaries and shoplifting could eventually hurt you — the consumer. Stores like Walmart have said they are to recoup their losses and if theft keeps happening, it could lead to store closures and higher prices.
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