Bellingham police investigating rash of business burglaries

BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- There's plywood on one door; fresh panes on a dozen others. In the south end of the city, long, clear rectangles fill a jewelry case, protecting what's left of the baubles and bangles in one Fairhaven shop.

To measure a pattern in Bellingham these days, just follow the glass company around. They're busy, and police are none too pleased.

"This is unusual because of the scope in terms of the geography," said Mark Young of the Bellingham Police Department. "December we had one that we know of. January we had one or two. Then in February it's just been 'boom-boom-boom.' More frequent."

In total, police believe at least 14 burglaries to Bellingham businesses in the past three months are related. In each case, thieves have smashed out a large window or glass door to get in and quickly take cash or expensive items, running away before being caught.

What's more, officers say, is that the burglars appear to be targeting small businesses in particular.

"It's the backbone of what our community is all about, which is small operations that are just out trying to survive and make a dollar," Young added.

Thieves hit Southside Trends, a consignment shop in Fairhaven, sometime over the weekend. They broke the glass door, smashed a jewelry case, and even stole the entire cash register. A passer-by noticed the mess early Sunday morning and called police.

"It's violating to have somebody come in and just wipe out all these things you've hand-selected," said Cathy Lee, the store's owner. "We're just trying to make ends meet like everybody else and it's just a violation to have anybody take anything away from you."

"We not rich," added Lee, who has owned her own business for nearly a quarter-century. "We love what we're doing."

On the north end of town, three businesses on James Street have been hit since late January. At Serendipity Salon, the thieves took expensive hair products, said Cindy Hendricks, the salon's owner.

"It looked like they were hoping to take money," said Hendricks. "They popped open the drawer of the reception desk. I was relieved they didn't vandalize anything."

Detectives believe there may be more victims out there who haven't reported being hit because they may have only had a broken window or minor theft, Young said. He recommended businesses remember to clear out their cash registers at the end of the day and leave lights on overnight as added precautions.

"Bellingham's safe, but they need to catch these people," added Lee, who had to replace her stolen cash register, in addition to the broken glass. "I don't feel safe. I've already got hit and I feel, like, not safe - like they could come back."