Smash-and-grabs opts for glasses

When three young men wearing hoodies walked into Bauer’s Optical in Alexandria, Virginia on a recent afternoon, “they came to ask for Cartier eyeglass frames,” said the store’s general manager, Jackie Vaughan.

“I said, ‘We don’t have Cartier,'” Vaughan recounted. “I could kind of feel what was going on.”

Moments later, one of them pulled a hammer from his pocket and began smashing glass display cases. As Vaughan rushed to call 911, the men retrieved all of the store’s Gucci inventory and a tray of sunglasses, with a total value of over $17,000, and fled the store.

It was the latest of six robberies at eyewear stores in the past three weeks in the Washington, DC area, all of which occurred while the stores were open and in view of employees. Thieves target high-end frames, which can sell for over $1,000 apiece.

Apart from the hammers, no weapons were used and no one was injured. Police departments in the area say they cannot confirm the thefts are linked, but they are all investigating.

The targeting of eyewear stores is not limited to the Washington area. In recent months, stores in New York; Rehoboth Beach, Delaware; Houston; Memphis; and Chicago were affected. Sometimes burglars break down glass doors and steal their loot at night when stores are closed.

That’s what happened Dec. 1 when a LensCrafters in Bethesda, Maryland was robbed, Montgomery County police said. Video shows a man smashing the lower glass of the store’s front door, slipping through and then urging two accomplices to enter. They are shown sweeping all the sets of frames they can, filling a large garbage bag, and then walking out the door before the police arrive.

The recent spate of eyeglass thefts began last month in the Washington area. The first occurred on January 11 at Eye See Optique in Arlington, Virginia. The store has limited its number of customers since the start of the pandemic, and owner Waheed Abbasi said he let a man into the store around 1:15 p.m.

“While we were with other patients,” Abbasi said, “he let one guy in, and he let the others in.” Five men in hoods and thick coats locked up the store for about five minutes, Abbasi said, then smashed display cases containing Cartier, Gucci and Dior glass frames and walked away with around $60,000 worth of merchandise.

Surveillance video shows the five men shoveling the big-ticket frames into plastic bags as Abbasi yells at them and calls the police.

“We’re just trying to facilitate our return to work,” Abbasi said. “I still have PTSD.”

Similar crashes and seizures have occurred twice in Fairfax County, Virginia. Two days after the Arlington robbery, three men entered France Optical in Annandale, smashed storefronts, took glasses and fled, Sgt. says Ian Yost. Then on Tuesday, four hooded men entered McLean’s Village Eye Center, opened storefronts and again fled with valuable executives, Yost said.

On January 24, three men entered the MyEyeDr. store in Chevy Chase, Md., shortly after noon posing as customers. “Then they started taking it into their own hands,” said Capt. Jason Cokinos of the Montgomery County Police Department. They stole about 40 high-end eyeglass frames and fled, Cokinos said.

“Obviously these frames have value,” Cokinos said.

A sixth daytime robbery occurred on January 29 at the Focus optician in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood. Police said two people entered the store around 5:45 p.m. and one of them used a hammer to smash several windows.

A police report says they seized 30 pairs of designer sunglasses and eyeglasses – most of them from Cartier – and stuffed them into a black trash bag.

Officer Makhetha Watson, a spokesperson for the Washington police, said detectives were speaking with police in several nearby jurisdictions to find out if the burglary at Focus Optician could be linked to the other crimes.