Lifting the Goods

It's not teenagers shoplifting at high-end boutiques these days

Callie Lamb locked the door to her Ballantyne Village women's boutique, Her Therapy. It wasn't closing time. But after watching a shopper slyly stuff thousands of dollars of merchandise into her handbag while in the dressing room area, she knew she had to stop her. The thief, a thirty-nine-year-old uptown banker who was trying to steal a dress for New Year's Eve, wasn't about to wait for the cops.

"She ran for the door, but I'd already locked it before I confronted her," says Lamb of the woman, who pushed and scratched Lamb—drawing blood—to get loose. (Criminal charges have been filed.)

Sticky fingers are smearing their way across Charlotte's high-end boutiques. Managers at upscale shops say they're seeing more shoplifters than ever before as the country's cash flow problems force well-dressed and often monied women to find alternative ways to look good.

Christa Hathaway, manager at Monkees in SouthPark, says she's been there seven years and never dealt with shoplifters until the past six months. "I think people are just getting a little more desperate," says Hathaway. "And you'd be surprised at who's doing it."  

Lamb agrees: it used "to be just teens having fun. Now it's women who need clothes to wear out that night. We're seeing this kind of thing five times more this year than we did last year," she says.

At K-La in Phillips Place, manager Corina Patterson says she's been in retail for twenty years and for the first time she feels like she has to defend her merchandise against potential thieves every day. "It totally corresponds to the financial picture," she says. "But it's shocking how blatant they're being -- taking things ... stuffing it in their purse."

Catching them can be tough, though. Smaller shops often don't do inventory every day and often don't immediately realize items are missing. Many have a wall of shame—photos of known shoplifters sitting by the register. Even Neiman Marcus has similar glamour shots in its Loss Prevention department along with notes detailing what the thieves took and how they did the deed. Several of the smaller stores have cameras and all seem to be taking a hard line on having thieves hauled in.

CMPD investigators say while it's hard for them to track citywide shoplifting, they're not surprised to hear about the increase, and agree with the shop owners—desperate times are prompting desperate measures.

"I've been prepared for all these things in the past—counterfeit money, people stealing piles of jeans, but I've never actually had to deal with it," says Patterson. "We've been walloped with all of it at once."

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