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October 16th, 2002 Elizabeth Dye | Fashion
 

CRIMES AGAINST FASHION

Smash-and-grab burglaries daunt local boutiques.

     
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Local clothing designer and shop owner Genna Golden was in New York for a wedding Sept. 14 when the Portland Police Bureau called her to say a motion sensor in her small Alberta Street fashion boutique, Gold, had been tripped. Golden, thinking it could be a shirt sliding off a hanger (it's happened before), waited until morning to send an employee to check the store. The next day, that employee called to let her know that in the middle of the night someone had turned the playful, yellow-painted storefront into a shambles of broken glass and ravaged inventory. Thieves had thrown a rock through the display window and absconded with about $3,000 in merchandise.

But not just any merchandise. Many of the garments had been painstakingly hand-sewn by Golden in the previous two weeks: pairs of detailed corduroy pants, others appliquéd with leather flowers, pieces made from costly wool and velvet. "They were on the floor of the shop for only 48 hours before they were stolen," she mourns, clearly bitter that the rascals targeted her latest work.

These crooks weren't style-starved shoplifters building a black-market wardrobe; they took all sizes of the items they wanted. Mystifyingly, other items of more obvious street value, like jewelry, were left untouched. "Whoever did this was very specific about what they took. They obviously [checked us out] first," says Golden. Like any shop, Gold attracts the occasional creepy crawler, but Golden wasn't prepared to have her wares cased so idiosyncratically.

"It's not like I won't notice someone walking down the street wearing my clothes--they're unmistakable and unique," says Golden.

Because of the clothes' one-of-a-kind status, Golden doubts her thief will be able to enjoy the goods. The scoundrel will have a hard time selling them, too--at least in Portland. Golden has given resale shops detailed descriptions of the missing items.

The Gold job is just one of a recent flurry of burglaries to hit Portland's smaller clothiers. Just a few days earlier, someone lobbed a fist-sized river rock through the front door of upscale/arty clothing boutique Aubergine. Although evidence of the theft suggests it was less calculated than that at Gold, the event still mystifies store employee Darl Blankenship.

"We lost a coat by Chinese designer Han Feng that retails for $1,200," says Blankenship. "We're the only store anywhere near Portland that carries it, and it's bright red. It's hard to miss. At most someone could get $30 for it on the street."

Shortly thereafter, nearby shop French Quarter lost several duvet covers to smash-and-grab artists (this time the chosen instrument was a chunk of concrete). Excuse me, duvet covers? Let's build a profile: a thief who craves one-off psychedelic hip-huggers, earth-toned adult contemporary separates, and fine bed linens? It'd be funny if it weren't so weird...and if it didn't have such crappy consequences.

What makes this crime cluster particularly mean-spirited is that these are all independently owned stores, struggling to survive in an economic pause when far more boutiques are busting than booming. These thefts may be flyspecks on the world's map of woes at the moment, but they nourish a new level of hostility and caution in these neighborhoods that discourages gumption-and-elbow-grease investments like Golden's.

Insurance might refill the till and repair smashed panes, but small-business inventory is rarer and harder-won than a pallet of Diesel jeans. For Golden, who makes her own products, the attack feels personal.

"It's depressing, because I worked really hard on this stuff. If I ever see anyone wearing my things, I'll walk right up to them and demand they give them back. The gall it takes to do something like that just blows my mind."

She's thinking about bars and a tighter security system (and has already upped her alarm service to automatically dispatch the police), but with retail relations on Alberta already fragile, she hesitates to take action against trouble that might recur anyway (vandalism and thefts on the street have been ongoing).

Even the comparatively arcadian Pearl District is going paranoid.

"We kind of live in a little oasis down here," says Blankenship. "Or we did. But now--hello. No more."

 
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