Community businesses battle theft


June 9 was a normal work day at Dinkytown Optical . Larry Zidel watched as a familiar customer walked across the shop floor and gazed at the dozens of glasses frames gleaming on the racks.

Then, the customer slipped several frames down his sleeves and ran out of the shop.

Shoplifting and robbery are two things every business must defend itself from, and the businesses in Dinkytown use the community to their advantage.

Zidel, an employee and former owner of Dinkytown Opitical, said the same shoplifter has visited the store about twice a year for the last six years. The only difference was that, this time, a painter chased after the thief and helped University police catch him, according to a police report.

Without the presence of a beat police officer assigned specifically to Dinkytown, business owners have taken on the role of policing the area.

When a thief prowls through Dinkytown, some of the storeowners notify each other.
Greg Pillsbury, owner of Burrito Loco , said Dinkytown needs more of this kind of immediate information.

“What I hate is to be talking to a friend and find out that so-and- so got robbed three weeks ago,” he said. Pillsbury said he calls everyone he knows when he sees a shoplifter in Dinkytown.

Aside from a surveillance system and parking lot monitors, Laurel Bauer, owner of the House of Hanson grocery store, has her own strategy.

Bauer said that when she sees someone with the “shady posturing” of a shoplifter, she will tell her employees something out of character. The question “How’s the beer cooler?” really means “Watch the person by the beer cooler.”

Bauer said she also alerts area businesses when she catches a shoplifter.

Dinkytown thieves are in a disadvantageous position, operating under both the University and Minneapolis police department jurisdictions.

University Police Lt. Chuck Miner said that 911 calls from Dinkytown are routed simultaneously to both the University and Minneapolis Police, and whoever has the closest officer will respond.

That Monday morning, the thief ran out of Dinkytown Optical and right into the arms of two University bike patrol officers.

Though the University bike patrol doesn’t monitor Dinkytown, they do cover Sanford Hall and Bierman athletic complex – two areas on Dinkytown’s perimeter.

A trespass warrant is another way that business owners can defend themselves against repeat offenders, Miner said. The warrant permits owners to deny entrance to their shops.

However, business owners might “run into a lawsuit” if they were to pick on a certain class or race, “but nobody has a constitutional right to go into a particular business,” Miner added.