ST. PETERSBURG — Sunbathers and fishermen apparently aren't the only ones looking for cool, high-end sunglasses this summer — thieves are, too.
They struck Elegante Eyewear on Corey Avenue in St. Pete Beach late Saturday night, breaking through a plate glass door and stealing Chanel, Prada and other stylish lenses.
"They went right for the good stuff," said owner Chuck Eubanks, who said about 70 pairs with a total value of about $5,000 were stolen, as well as several pairs of custom-made frames.
From Tampa to St. Pete Beach, law enforcement officials are investigating a recent wave of burglaries at optical stores in which large numbers of expensive sunglasses were stolen. So far, the thefts are not believed to be the work of a single ring of thieves, officials say. Rather, they appear to be sporadic "smash-and-grab" crimes that surface when the weather warms up.
In all five recent cases, there are no suspects. No surveillance video was captured, and there are few eyewitness accounts.
Also on Saturday night, thieves broke into the Sunglass Hut store at Baywalk in St. Petersburg, police said. It was not immediately clear how much merchandise was taken from that store.
On June 9, burglars struck at 5 a.m. at Disston Optical, 3435 49th St. N, where about 200 pairs of Costa Del Mar fishing sunglasses, which retail from $150 to $275, were stolen, according to police.
William Proffitt, a spokesman for the St. Petersburg Police, said the department's robbery squad was working with other agencies on the investigations.
In Bellair Bluffs, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is investigating a robbery at Bellair Opticians, 100 Indian Rocks Road N. In that case, two male suspects came in to the store on July 16 and swiped several pairs of sunglasses while the owner was in the store, officials said.
Law enforcement and industry officials point to several reasons why sunglasses are attractive for thieves.
They are lightweight and usually gathered in large bunches, which can be easily swiped into a duffle bag. Optical stores typically do not use video cameras or elaborate security. Generally, the frames do not have serial numbers. And quick resale is as simple as logging onto the Internet.
A search for "sunglasses" on Craigslist revealed more than a dozen offers for "new" Chanel, Oakley, Prada, Versace sunglasses and Costa Del Mar fishing lenses selling for half their retail cost.
"It's everywhere. It's on Craigslist, it's on eBay, it's in the flea markets, it's being bartered out for other things that can include drugs," said Marianne Pasha, a spokeswoman for the Pinellas County sheriff's office.
In New Tampa, one or more thieves broke into Eye Deal Optical, 18017 Highwoods Preserve Parkway on July 23.
They went right for the Dolce & Gabana, Versace, Christian Dior and Marc Jacobs, said owner Robert Luckey.
"It's going to be very difficult to find these people,'' he said, "and I think they realize that."
Researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this story. Luis Perez can be reached at [email protected] or (727)892-2271.