Antique shop owner: 'I looked down and I saw the barrel of the gun'

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. -- In the heart of tulip country, something else is in bloom - and shop owners are trying to dig into the problem before it gets worse.

"I don't know why we've been targeted," said Marcia Bartelt, co-owner of the Red Door Antique Mall. "I wonder why it's the antique shops because we sure don't have the most money of other businesses in town."

Three of the five antique shops in Mt. Vernon's downtown core have been the victims of crime since Saturday night: two were burglarized in middle-of-the-night break-ins and a third was held up at gunpoint, said Lt. Chris Cammock of the Mt. Vernon Police Department.

"These types of businesses - collectibles - aren't usually ones that you would think that somebody going out and doing burglary would look to," Cammock said. "(They) could (all) be connected. It could be coincidence. We're looking into both of those."

Among the crimes: the Tuesday gunpoint hold-up of Annie Mae Antiques - and shop owner Marlys Herman, one week shy of her 79th birthday.

"To come in and rob their grandma - that's not right," Herman said. "I work for my money. What's a matter with people? Can't they work for their money? I get irritated with shoplifters but this really ticked me off."

Herman - who says she's run after shoplifters in her five years in business - did not chase after the robber on Tuesday afternoon.

"He says, 'Give me your money,' and of course, I says, 'What?'" Herman recalled. "I told him, I says, 'We've had very few sales. I don't have much money.' And he says, 'Well, you've got more than I do.'"

"So then I looked down and I saw the barrel of the gun," she said.

A third store, Good Old Days Antique Mall, was also hit this week. Someone used a large object to break the front door's plate glass window and ransacked a display case full of daggers, swords, and old medals, police said.

"They just took the doors of the case and had their way with it," said Brian Queen, who co-owns the shop.

The thieves also ripped a unique, vintage vending machine out of the wall and stole the store's security system.

"They knew what they were doing," added Ron Perry, the store's coowner.

The store is having a weekend sale to raise money to fix the front glass, according to their .

Police are also looking into whether
similar thefts in Bellingham in February might be related. Two Mt. Vernon residents were arrested in that case, although one remains free on bail, said Bellingham Police Department spokesman Mark Young.

"We have a small profit margin so anything we have to pay out extra is a big hit right out of our pockets," added Charlene Kading, who co-owns the Red Door Antique Mall.

"It was just scary. It just kind of shakes you," she said.