In the hindsight of surveillance footage, it’s as clear as day.
Two men walk into Village Eye Center in McLean. One appears to accidentally knock over a standing poster and politely props it back up. His partner, under the cover of such distractions, goes to work.
“We have him putting nine frames down his shirt in no time at all,” said Mikki Freidkin, a partner and optician at the boutique retailer.
The men are part of a small band of high-end eyewear thieves who police say have hit vision stores in the Virginia and Maryland suburbs at least eight times since May. In one Virginia store, frames handcrafted from buffalo horn and wood were stolen, an optician at the store reported. Police released surveillance images this week hoping for help in the case.
“I am fairly certain they will close in on these people,” Freidkin said Tuesday.
The two men in the McLean store came off so friendly that a saleswoman apologized to them as they were leaving, thinking they didn’t find what they were looking for, Freidkin said.
Police say that there are probably four to six members in the group — men and women — and that they often work in pairs. They’re bold enough to have hit one vision center in Montgomery County three times. No one has been injured in the incidents.
“They know the designers,” said Tony Nguyen, 35, who opened True Vision in the Falls Church area 15 months ago.
He is growing the business, slowly. When thieves stole more than $2,000 in Chanel and Gucci frames July 6, it hurt. “That’s a significant percentage of my income,” the optometrist said.
Thieves have hit eyewear shops in other parts of the country, too. In August in Miami, they stole eyeglasses, a television, three printers and a laptop computer, with a total value of $254,000, according to the Miami Herald.
Months earlier, in Grandville, Mich., police spotted a 41-year-old man hiding in a ditch outside an ophthalmology office, one he broke into using a rock, according to the Grand Rapids Press. The suspect was accused of stealing $13,000 worth of sunglasses and eyeglass frames.
Fairfax and Montgomery police suspect that the thieves hit the following stores:
● May 10, July 15, Oct. 29: Appelbaum Eye Care Associates, 6509 Democracy Blvd., Bethesda.
● June 28: Village Eye Center, 9812 Falls Rd., Potomac. Freidkin, the partner in the company, said the group of thieves had earlier hit the branch in McLean and later entered the branch in Rockville but didn’t get anything because the frames were under lock and key.
● July 6: Steiner Vision, 6201 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church area.
● July 6: True Vision, 6643 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church area.
● July 11: Great Falls Eyecare, 9909 Georgetown Pike, Great Falls area.
● Nov. 10: For Eyes, 6242 Little River Tpk., Alexandria.
Authorities ask anyone with information to call 866-411-TIPS (8477).