Shoplifters beware!

Published 11:48 am Monday, October 9, 2017

AHOSKIE – According to one national organization that keeps such statistics, the crime of shoplifting is reaching epidemic proportions across the United States.

The National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP says more than $13 billion worth of goods are stolen from retailers each year (or approximately $35 million per day).

While some merchants account for such pilferage and build themselves a financial cushion by slightly increasing prices on their goods to offset the losses they suffer to shoplifters, smaller retailers, especially “mom-and-pop” businesses, are caught in the middle. Do they raise prices to cover their losses, which may, in turn, lead to a loss of customers?

One local businessman, however, has come up with a unique way of addressing this issue. He refuses to raise prices to cover his losses. Instead, he’s calling out shoplifters, by name, on the marquee in front of his store in an effort to deter others who may think about stealing from his place of business.

Frank Timberlake, who owns and operates The Ahoskie Market as well as The Rich Square Market, has begun listing the names of individuals caught stealing from his Ahoskie store.

“I’m a small business, so I have to keep my prices to a minimum in order to compete against the big box, major grocery stores,” Timberlake remarked. “In retail, there’s a certain percentage (of items) that’s going to be stolen. It’s how you account for that. The big chains will put that in their bottom line and pass it on to their customers that pay. I don’t do that.

“I want to keep my prices low,” he continued. “My biggest claim to fame is my fresh cut meats, never flash frozen or pre-packaged before they arrive here. I operate on volume, but when you see your business purchases, what we buy, going up and your sales going down, then there’s a reason for that.”

Timberlake listed those reasons as either employee theft, which he admits has occurred in the past, or shoplifting.

“I took care of the employee theft; what I’m trying to do now is lower the number of shoplifters, and right here lately it’s gotten worse,” said Timberlake in regards to customer theft in both of his stores.

The first thief listed on his outdoor sign came into the Ahoskie store and swiped an entire ribeye, carved into 15-to-18 individually packaged steaks that were in the meat display case.

“My meat cutter that day had just put those steaks out in the case and a couple of minutes later noticed they were all gone,” Timberlake recalled. “He went up front and checked with the checkout clerk to see if those steaks had been purchased, and found out they were not.”

Later, Timberlake viewed the surveillance system in his Ahoskie store at which time he saw how the crime took place.

“The guy walks up to the display case, grabs a few of the steaks and stuffs them inside the top of his pants,” Timberlake shared. “Another customer is seen walking towards the display case, so the guy turns away and walks over to a nearby aisle like he’s looking for an item. When the other customer walks away, he returns to the display case and steals the other ribeyes. He then walks over to the beer cooler, gets one beer, pays for that and leaves the store.”

Three hours later, the same individual returns and repeats the process.

“He’s taking those steaks out on the street and selling them,” Timberlake alleged.

The value of the steaks stolen that particular day was in excess of $300, according to the store owner.

As a savvy businessman, what Timberlake wants to avoid is driving away his loyal and honest customers.

“The last thing you want to do is for a customer to walk through your door and have them to feel like you’re staring at them the whole time they’re shopping,” he said. “You want them to feel comfortable.

“We have a large base of great customers; we know them by their first names and we go out of our way to make their grocery-buying experience with us first class,” Timberlake continued. “We pride ourselves on a family friendly atmosphere. Even with all this shoplifting, I’m doing what I can to keep my prices affordable so they can still come in and do business with us.”

To make customers aware of what he was planning to do in advance, Timberlake posted signs at the front entrance of The Ahoskie Market. There are also exterior signs stating that the premises are monitored by video cameras.

Timberlake just recently doubled the video surveillance system at the Ahoskie store, going from 16 to 32 cameras. He can monitor those cameras from his residence.

“I do not tolerate shoplifting; if you’re caught and arrested I will place your name in a prominent place for all to see,” Timberlake stated. “It’s kind of like a law; if you have a law and don’t enforce it, then people don’t know there is a law. You’ve got to have enforcement behind a law to make it work. That’s what led me to the idea of placing the names of those who steal from my store on the sign out front.”

To date, Timberlake has heard nothing but positive remarks concerning his decision to publicly display the names of arrested shoplifters.

“My (business) Facebook page has lit up since that happened; all saying it’s the right thing to do in my effort to deter shoplifting at both locations,” he noted. “I’ve even received private (Facebook) messages from some of my customers who are sharing information about witnessing shoplifting at one of my stores and said they were too scared about bringing it to my immediate attention for fear they would have to go testify in court.”

Timberlake said he will continue to post names of shoplifters on the marquee of his Ahoskie store. He added that he just recently purchased a sign to place in front of his Rich Square location to serve the same purpose.

“My intention is not to belittle anybody,” he surmised. “My intention is to stop the shoplifting.”

He remarked that both of his stores (Rich Square Market is now in its 11th year while Ahoskie Market is celebrating year number five) are profitable, and he wants to keep them that way.

“I don’t want a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch of good apples,” he said. “I’m going to take the bad apples out. I will not sit still and allow thieves to steal me blind. I’ve got too much at stake through my investment in both stores, not to mention the fate, the livelihood of my employees.”

Timberlake praised the response of the Ahoskie Police Department when he calls to report a shoplifter.

“They are always ‘Johnny-on-the-spot’,” he stressed. “The officers are professional, they do their jobs and they do it well.”

As far as the first two names listed on the sign outside of The Ahoskie Market, both Henry Vann Mitchell Jr. and Tracey Lawrence were scheduled to make their initial court appearances on Sept. 19, according to the Hertford County District Court calendar.

Mitchell was charged by the Ahoskie Police Department with misdemeanor larceny, and shoplifting – concealment of goods. Lawrence faces misdemeanor larceny, and possession of stolen goods/property. Lawrence was also charged by the Ahoskie Police with being intoxicated and disruptive, possession of drug paraphernalia, and resisting a public officer.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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