YouTube video highlights Greenport shoplifting problem

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Verbena owner Maureen Gonzalez at the rack from which a dress was recently stolen. Video of the theft now appears on YouTube.

A YouTube video posted by a Greenport merchant has brought attention to the problem of shoplifting in the village this summer.

Verbena owner Maureen Gonzales posted the video, which shows a woman, believed to be in her 30s or 40s, staring straight into the security camera as she sneaks a $150 dress into her bag.

The same woman made a purchase across the street at DiAngela Leather, but paid cash there, so there’s no tracking her through a credit card receipt, according to owner Patty Carlos. Ms. Carlos said she maintains a computer file of “thieves” who have ripped off her store. She said many of the thieves she catches on her video surveillance cameras are regular customers who purchase some items at the same time they’re stealing others.

It took six hours of reviewing tapes for Ms. Gonzales to discover the clip she later posted on YouTube. She’s now working with Southold Police, hoping someone will identify the woman who stole the dress.

She said it’s difficult for a seasonal store to cover lost revenue from stolen merchandise. She can’t just raise prices to cover such losses in this difficult economy.

“And it’s bolder, more expensive merchandise that is being taken,” Ms. Gonzales said.

Even if she is aware of a theft at the time it occurs, ms. Gonzales said she can’t just usher other shoppers out and close the store while she chases down the shoplifter. And most store owners can’t afford to hire enough help to handle such a situation, she said.

Ms. Carlos, who along with Ms. Gonzales said many shoplifters appear to be people with money when they visit the store, agrees shoplifting has been a difficult problem for merchants to get a handle on in Greenport.

“Some of my best customers have turned out to be my worst enemies,” she said. And more often than not, when they are caught, she ends up having to settle out of court with them because battling them in court would take too long and cost too much money.

“The best thing is to get the merchandise back,” she said. “We try to work it out.”

At Calypso on Front Street, Kaitlin Rogers said they depend on sensors attached to the clothing to counter shoplifting.

One Main Street merchant who asked not to be identified said she tries to watch more carefully when a group of teens come into the store. But if the experiences of Ms. Gonzalez and Ms. Carlos are any indication, that may not be sufficient, since they said most village thieves tend to be older.

Another long-time Main Street merchant said there’s more shoplifting in the village during the summer, since there are more visitors to the village.

Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said summer shoplifting in Greenport is something that can be expected.

“It’s kind of business as usual,” he said.

While Chief Flatley said he doesn’t have statistics available, he said he receives many reports of shoplifting, particularly from the IGA supermarket.

“We try to combat it by having a foot patrol in the village from noon to 3 a.m. [every day],” the chief said. If a merchant calls police quickly, it’s always possible the patrolman will be able to nab the suspect, he said.

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