ST. PETERSBURG — Police are investigating a rash of burglaries in which optical shops have been cleaned out of high-end sunglasses.
At least three St. Petersburg businesses have been hit this month. A thief also targeted a Sunglass Hut at Brandon's Westfield Shopping Center in August.
The thieves have gotten away with more than $30,000 worth of brand-name sunglasses, including Maui Jim, Coach, Ray Ban, Guess, Chesterfield, Converse, Lucky and Vera Wang.
"They seem like they know exactly what they're looking for," said Ron Lawson, an administrator at Updegraff Vision Center, 1601 38th Ave. N, which was burglarized Sept. 1. "They get the sunglasses, then they go. They're in and out in minutes."
A similar burglary occurred at St. Pete Optical, 3210 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N, on Sept. 16. Early the next morning, thieves got away with $10,000 in merchandise at Joel Marartz Optical, 929 First Ave. N.
Police said they see a rash of these break-ins at least once a year and believe the recent burglaries may have been committed by the same people. In all three cases, the burglars either smashed or pried open a window or door. In a surveillance video from the Updegraff burglary, two masked men are seen quickly leaving after throwing the sunglasses — worth $20,000 — from a display into a garbage bin.
"The M.O., the time frame, the locations and the way they're happening suggest it could all be the same people," said St. Petersburg Police spokesman Mike Puetz.
Officials said the sunglasses likely are resold on the Internet.
Nancy McGettrick, owner of St. Pete Optical, said the burglary cost her more than just the $3,000 worth of merchandise she lost. She also had to pay $1,600 for a new door and frame and a $1,000 deductible.
"Little businesses like me are devastated," said McGettrick, who has had the shop for about four years. "All that damage for 17 pairs of sunglasses."
McGettrick said she hadn't even bothered stocking the non-prescription, high-end sunglasses until a few months ago. She said she won't carry the targeted brands anymore.
"It's not worth it," she said.