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Smash-and-grab thieves clean out 21 businesses

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

Clearwater police and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office are investigating a rash of "smash and grab" burglaries after more than 20 businesses were hit Sunday night.

"It could be more than one group of burglars," said Marianne Pasha, a sheriff's spokeswoman.

During the quick hits, also called "smash for cash" burglaries, thieves smash a front window or glass door, enter a business and take money from the cash register.

The crimes have been occurring at North Pinellas businesses since May, with strip shopping centers in Clearwater, Dunedin, Oldsmar and Palm Harbor targeted.

Sunday's wave wasn't the first. On June 26, about 10 businesses, from East Lake to Clearwater, were broken into. The burglaries may be related to a series of crimes in west Hillsborough County, Pasha said.

The Pinellas Sheriff's Office responded to six of the smash-and-grab calls Sunday night, while Clearwater police were investigating 15 break-ins Sunday, two of them outside the city limits.

Employees at Clearwater's Chubby's Deli took the damage in stride when it was discovered Monday. The front door of the deli at 1905 N Hercules Ave. was smashed.

"I guess we're an open-air deli now," manager Jim Jeup said. "But we're open and ready to go."

Wayne Shelor, a spokesman for Clearwater police, said either front doors or front windows were smashed in all 13 incidents there.

Cash was taken, but he had no estimate of the total loss. Police discovered the burglaries in businesses along Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, McMullen-Booth Road, Drew Street and Hercules Avenue about 2 a.m. Monday.

Two were hit at 2794 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd., and four businesses were struck in a shopping plaza at 2551 Drew St.

"My front door is just a frame," said Adam Fischler, owner of East of Eden coffee shop in the plaza.

He said he was open for business as usual and was thankful more damage was not done. Although he had not gone through his shop's inventory, Fischler said it appeared that no food, beverages or other items were taken.

"We don't keep cash here overnight, so I didn't lose any money," Fischler said. "Of course, it will cost me to get the door fixed."

There were no known witnesses to the break-ins. Police had no descriptions of vehicles or suspects and had not made any arrests.