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Florida Craftsmen Gallery takes step to protect against theft

ST. PETERSBURG — Outside the door to the Florida Craftsmen Gallery, a man in a white polo waits.

Gallery assistant Maggie Duffy looks up from the counter to see him and pushes a button.

A buzzing sound signals that the door is open. It's not the most personal greeting, but executive director Maria Emilia said the buzzer was necessary after a string of thefts.

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First, it was two glass sculptures stolen in February during early morning hours.

Thieves knew exactly what they came for, found it and walked out.

Emilia watched the security videos in disbelief as the thieves made their way through the gallery.

"The familiarity they had, it was just spooky," she said.

A few weeks later a laptop was stolen, presumably during a gallery walk.

The gallery at 501 Central Ave. routinely staffs only one person in the front, making it difficult to monitor visitors while assisting others.

Then came the buzzer.

It gives employees a chance to see who's coming in, Emilia said. Other gallery employees can gauge if more help is needed on the floor.

So far customers haven't complained.

"We didn't know what to expect but there has been hardly any comments," she said.

St. Petersburg police recommend buzzers as a crime deterrent, said police spokesman George Katsja. They control traffic through stores with limited staffing.

Just a few doors down, three men broke into the Table last summer and assaulted an employee. Two sculptures were also stolen from the Arts Center.

Despite recent events, Emilia doesn't think downtown is any less safe.

"I think we are responding to a particular incident," she said. "I don't think that the area's dangerous."

Jackie Alexander can be reached at (727) 893-8779 or jdalexander@sptimes.com.

Florida Craftsmen Gallery takes step to protect against theft 05/26/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 1:18pm]

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