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NW Store Posts Surveillance Video Online After Group Robbery

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After this group of men robbed the Universal Gear store he owns on 14th St. NW recently, David Franco posted the surveillance video on YouTube and shared it with The Post. "We decided we have got to get out there and promote what is happening in our neighborhood," he said. Video courtesy David Franco.

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By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The attack lasted one minute and 26 seconds and cost the Universal Gear store about $5,000.

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After a swarm of thieves struck last week for the umpteenth time at his D.C. clothing store, David Franco had had enough. He decided to post the surveillance video on YouTube.

The physicality of it doesn't come through in a police report labeled "shoplifting": the boldness of nine young men walking into an upscale store in a Northwest Washington shopping district and taking it over, snatching what they wanted and muscling their way past store workers trying to tackle them.

"It was just so frustrating, knowing this is just going to continue to get lost in the District's long list of police investigations," said Franco, who owns the store and two others in New York and Chicago, neither of which has had this type of attack.

"We decided we have got to get out there and promote what is happening in our neighborhood. Fourteenth Street has undergone a fantastic renaissance, but you can't take several steps back for each step forward."

The response to the video has been overwhelming: thousands of views online, loads of sympathy calls and a flood of tips that the same horde has been hitting stores across the city.

The criminals obviously have a sense of style. The men's boutiques they hit carry backyard barbecue-worthy shorts costing up to $118 and ab-clinging tank tops for $42. Jeans cost as much as $270.

The store opened in 1993 on 17th Street, where it was an anchor of the neighborhood until Franco moved in 2007 to the bigger and brighter location at 1529 14th St. In his old store, he had the occasional smash-and-grab.

"But never anything like this," he said.

Once the video was posted, Franco got calls from managers of at least two other stores, one in Dupont Circle and one in Georgetown, telling him they, too, had been hit by group robbers.

"It happens all the time here, maybe once a week," said Jordan Marlor, who works at the G Star clothing store in Dupont Circle, another favorite target. "Generally, you get six to 10 people rushing into the store all at once. They distract the sales associates, they start grabbing stuff, and then there's just some trigger, some signal and they all run."

"It's frightening and it's a slap in the face," said Marlor, who said the thieves usually get away with $4,000 to $6,000 worth of goods. "You just see red."


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