A slew of recent burglaries targeting antique stores in downtown Gilroy have left four shop owners licking their wounds and crossing their fingers that the criminals won't return for another round.
Since the first raid at Gilroy Antiques at 7445 Monterey St. in mid-September, three more stores have been prey to thieves on the hunt for antique jewelry and sterling silver. The incidents have left local shop owners incensed and questioning whether local law enforcement is doing its due diligence in protecting the downtown area from late-night criminal activity.
Clocks & Collectibles owner Larry Demoss captured the Oct. 2 burglary to his store on his private security camera, which he turned in to police as evidence. Although the footage of the film is way too blurry to convict anyone, Demoss said it did reveal that the suspects spent 40 minutes breaking the locks to his storefront's iron gate and hauling clocks away from the store.
“They were here 40 minutes. Forty minutes and not one cop swung by,” Demoss said.
Of the four stores that were nabbed, Garbo's, near Pinnacles Bank, took the hardest hit. Criminals smashed eight glass cases and took more than $100,000 in silver and jewelry the morning of Oct. 4.
“This has never happened before, we don't know what's going on,” said Bruce Ganzler, co-owner of Garbo's Antiques at 7565 Monterey St. “But it's happening to everyone.”
Since their burglary, Ganzler and his partner David Doshak have taken what was left of their silver home in fear of getting hit again.
“That's been hard, because silver was such a good seller for us,” chimed in Bonnie Rich, who rents a station at Garbo's to sell her goods.
Ganzler has operated the business for 20 years and has struggled to keep the store open recently. He said the recent break-in tipped him over the edge.
“It's tough doing business down here. It's hard work. You have to really love what you do, and we do. But then someone just comes and smashes down a window and takes all your stuff? What's the point?” Ganzler said. “It better not happen again, because we'll probably close.”
The pair shook their heads defeatedly as they talked about the raid. They said the thieves knew right where to go and went for all the cases with the most expensive goods, even in the dark morning hours. This leads Ganzler and Doshak to believe the suspects had previously scoped out the store for its potential cache of loot during open hours.
“It's just really creepy to think they were in our space,” Doshak said. “They were probably talking to us, like a customer, but actually looking around and plotting about what they'll steal.”
Although Gilroy Police collected fingerprint samples from the cases and burglary tools left by the suspects who tried to pry open the front door, Ganzler said that evidence alone probably won't be enough to pin someone.
“There are thousands of fingerprints from customers around here – that doesn't narrow it down,” he said.
A few store owners – namely Demoss and Gracie Garcia of Gilroy Antiques – are feeling disgruntled toward police for not preventing these break-ins and for failing to conduct serious, in-depth follow-ups.
Demoss paused from repairing a watch in his shop at 7573 Monterey St. Friday afternoon, pulling his goggles to the top of his head. At 4 a.m. Oct. 2, suspects stole an array of collectible marble and wood mantle wall clocks from the store's left display window. Demoss’ thieves never made it into the main part of the store, but drove away with $6,200 in loot from just one display window.
“We've had so many robberies around here, and what are cops doing? What really perturbs me is they say they are understaffed, and I believe that might be true, but we need one patrol car cruising this area to stop this from happening,” he said.
Today, Demoss' storefront windows are empty, which goes against the philosophy promoted by the City and the Downtown Business Association that says store windows should be dressed attractively with merchandise and décor to attract customers and make Monterey Street more aesthetic. But Demoss said he can't afford to put bait out for another thief.
“I have to keep these empty now, at least until I can get more security. Don't want them to come back tomorrow,” he said.
In 14 years of business, this is the first time Demoss' shop has been burglarized.
Garcia said her store was hit during the morning hours of Oct. 11, when the suspects broke two glass cases full of sterling silver spoons, gold coins and jewelry worth about $20,000.
“I'm just afraid they are going to come back with a gun to get the really good stuff,” Garcia said with a sigh from her shop, where she has been in business since 1989.
Since the break in, Garcia has been storing more items in her store's safe overnight as she waits to hear back from police about the suspects.
“I don't think (police) are taking this seriously,” she said. “There has been no follow-up.”
Police Sgt. Pedro Espinoza said that police are working on identifying fingerprints collected and may re-interview victims in their investigation. The Gilroy Police Department’s cameras on Fifth and Monterey Streets did not capture the incidents, he said.
In response to the burglaries, graveyard shift patrol officers have been cruising the downtown area more often, but the GPD does not have one patrol officer assigned just to the downtown area. The strip of Monterey Street where the antique stores are located is covered by one patrol officer, who is also assigned to cover the area west of downtown to Santa Teresa Boulevard.
“Just like in any other part of town where we have a rash of crime, we try to saturate those areas with more patrol. But how much patrol any area gets depends on our number of calls for service and emergencies going on,” Espinoza said.
Espinoza said the cases have been handed to Cpl. Justin Matsuhara.
Police Chief Denise Turner said she is waiting to hear back from detectives - hopefully in the next day or so - to see if there is evidence linking the four incidents together.
“I don't know what to make of it,” Turner said. “We're asking the detectives to look into to gather any suspect information at this point.”
Collective Past, the most recent antique store in downtown to be targeted, was raided sometime in the evening hours of Nov. 9 or the morning hours of Nov. 10. Suspects broke the front door at 7495 Monterey St., leaving thousands of pieces of shattered glass on the floor, and stole about $3,000 in rings, necklaces and keys.
But Collective Past employee Joyce Duarte said the joke is on the thieves, because most of what was stolen was costume jewelry and worth a fraction of the price of real jewelry.
“They thought they got the good stuff,” Duarte said with a smile.
But turning more serious, Duarte said she hopes police will take care of the rash of break-ins in downtown and prevent them from happening again. And as for the criminals, Duarte had no friendly words.
“I hope their fingers rot,” she said.
Shop owners believe that the same criminals are responsible for all four burglaries.
As to why these raids are happening all of a sudden after years of operation with no break-ins, a few shop owners pointed to the desperate times people are facing in a lagging economy.
“People are just trying to make a living. They can't get a job so they steal from someone who has one,” Demoss said.