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A view of downtown Sonora on South Washington Street looking north toward the St. James Episcopal Church, also known as the Red Church.

Multiple thefts on the same day and shoplifting in teams may seem like life in a big city, but for some local businesses in downtown Sonora, it is an increasing reality as Christmas approaches.

Monday morning started out a bit rough for April and David Wold, co-owners of Local Collective Goods & Gifts, a small shop carrying only locally made goods including honey, beeswax candles, craft coffee, jewelry, leather goods, pottery and handmade Christmas ornaments. 

Everything in the store is made by artisans in the Mother Lode.

The Wolds, who own the business with their daughter, Madilyn, and her husband, Zac Broxham, have had a few instances of shoplifting at their small collective and coffee bar, including one on Monday.

“Just this morning we had two teen girls in here attempting to take two rings and a necklace,” April Wold said. “Their body language gave them away.”

The rings and necklace were not tucked away in a little nook, or in a spot that would be hidden from the Wolds, which made the attempt by the two teens all the more audacious. They were displayed right at the front counter, close to the cash register and right where April Wold was standing. 

The necklace was displayed to the left of the counter, directly in view, approximately 2 feet away from the counter. 

“I could see one girl clearly take the two rings,” she said. “The other girl had her hand on the counter with the necklace under it. I simply asked the girls, ‘Are you ready to purchase the necklace and rings,’ and they headed straight for the front door and left the store.”

For David Wold, there is a fine line between greeting customers, providing customer service and watching for shoplifters. 

“You don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable,” he said.

Local Collective Goods & Gifts has Ring cameras installed inside the shop, but their purpose in the beginning was safety and not theft, the Wolds said. The business added another camera after a spree of gang shoplifting incidents took place approximately two months ago, on a Sunday when April Wold was alone minding the collective. 

As she recounts the story, it is clear that she is still affected by the incident.

“There were three separate groups of five people each,” she said. “They took a lot of things from the store. I even closed early that day, I was so scared. I later saw all of the people near Bank of America. They were all together.”

The Wolds said the spree of shoplifting was as bad as things have ever been. Since adding a camera and staying vigilant, things have improved. 

Cameras from Outlaw Security, which record video footage around the clock, discreetly adorn  the walls of Addictions: Pretty Things Inside, a women’s clothing boutique located on S. Washington Street. 

Store Manager Brittany Taylor and owner Sarah Gordon, use the surveillance system to identify shoplifters and make them famous on Instagram.

“People know we will post their video on Instagram if they are caught shoplifting in our store,” Taylor said. “We’ve caught many people on the cameras.”

According to Taylor, the process is made simple because Outlaw Security can download the video surveillance footage and then easily put it on a flash drive for Taylor or Gordon to post, or even use for court, if the theft warrants it. 

Working in the shop for the last eight years has given Taylor a sixth sense when it comes to scoping out shoplifters. 

“You have a gut feeling,” she said. “It’s their actions and body language that give them away. You always hope that you are wrong.”

Lately, things have been quiet for the most part as far as shoplifters go, but that wasn’t always the case. Over $1,000 worth of clothes were taken from the boutique in the recent past, along with Taylor’s cell phone, by a woman and her two stepdaughters. 

“Sonora Police Department got them,” Taylor said. 

The video footage was crucial in identifying what was stolen and who was involved, Taylor said.

Some simple measures can be taken to help dissuade shoplifters, according to Sonora Police Officer Thomas Brickley, spokesman for the department.

Christmas time is a particularly busy time for stores and for shoplifters, Brickley said. Proper staffing is important because it allows store employees to greet potential shoppers/shoplifters. 

Greeting someone and making eye contact with them as they enter the shop could unnerve a potential shoplifter, Brickley explained.

“Really good customer service can deter a potential shoplifter,” he said. 

Brickley also recommends installing surveillance cameras, because there is “no rhyme or reason as to which type of store, or what type of items,” may get boosted. 

“Shoplifters might be deterred if they know they are being watched,” he said. “If someone sees a camera, they may rethink the situation.”

Contact Rebecca Howes at rhowes@uniondemocrat.net or (805) 450-8961

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