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Thieves smash-and-grab expensive eyeglasses at six D.C.-area stores in recent weeks

Cartier, Dior frames worth thousands are snagged, and optical stores nationwide are having the same problem

Several opticals around the D.C. region have been robbed of tens of thousands of dollars worth of designer eyeglass frames in 2021 and 2022. (Video: Eye See Optique)
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When the three young men in hooded sweatshirts entered Bauer’s Optical on King Street in Alexandria one afternoon last month, “they came in asking for Cartier” eyeglass frames, the store’s general manager, Jackie Vaughan, said. “I said we don’t have Cartier. I could kind of sense what was going on.”

Moments later, one of them pulled a hammer out of his pocket and began smashing glass display cases. As Vaughan scurried to call 911, the men snagged all of the store’s Gucci inventory and a tray of sunglasses, with a total value of more than $17,000, and ran out of the store.

It was the latest in at least six smash-and-grab thefts of eyeglass stores in the last three weeks in the D.C. area, all of them while the stores were open and as employees watched in terrified amazement. The thieves target high-end frames, which can retail for more than a thousand dollars apiece, and can then be resold online or on the streets.

No weapons, other than hammers, have been used, and no one has been injured. The police in D.C., Alexandria, and Montgomery, Arlington and Fairfax counties say they cannot confirm that the thefts are related, but they are all investigating.

Targeting eyewear stores is not limited to the Washington area. In the last few months, stores in New York City, Rehoboth Beach, Del., Houston, Memphis and Chicago have all been hit. Sometimes, burglars smash through glass doors and snag their loot after midnight when the stores are closed.

That’s what happened the night of Dec. 1, when the LensCrafters on Arlington Road in Bethesda was victimized after the store had closed, Montgomery County police said. A video shows one man smashing the lower pane of the store’s front door, sliding through and then urging two accomplices to get inside and get started. They are seen methodically swiping every set of frames they can, filling a large garbage bag and then walking out the door before police arrive.

Montgomery County Police are investigating a burglary that occurred Dec. 1 at a Bethesda, Md., LensCrafters store. (Video: Montgomery County Department of Police)

Beginning last month, the string of eyeglass larcenies began in the D.C. area, all occurring while the stores were open. The first of those occurred Jan. 11 at Eye See Optique in Arlington. As with many stores, the number of customers has been limited since the start of the pandemic, and owner Waheed Abbasi said he let one man into the store about 1:15 p.m.

“While we were with other patients,” Abbasi said, “he allowed one guy in, and he let the rest of them in.” Five men with hoods and heavy coats cased the store for about five minutes, Abbasi said, then smashed open the display cases holding Cartier, Gucci and Dior glass frames and made off with about $60,000 worth of merchandise.

Surveillance video shows the five bandits rapidly shoveling the high-dollar frames into plastic bags while Abbasi is yelling at them and calling police, leaving a patina of shattered glass chunks in their wake.

“We’re just trying to ease our way back into work,” Abbasi said. “I still have PTSD.”

Similar smash-and-grabs happened twice in Fairfax County. Two days after the Arlington heist, three men entered France Optical on Little River Turnpike in Annandale, smashed display cases, took eyeglasses and fled, Sgt. Ian Yost said. Then on Tuesday, four hooded men entered the Village Eye Center on Chain Bridge Road in McLean, broke open display cases and again made off with valuable frames, Yost said.

On Jan. 24, three men entered the MyEyeDr. store on Willard Road in Chevy Chase shortly after noon and posed as customers. “Then they started taking things into their own hands,” Capt. Jason Cokinos of the Montgomery County Police Department said. They stole about 40 high-end glasses frames and fled, Cokinos said.

“Obviously there’s value in these frames,” said Cokinos, commander of the department’s Criminal Investigations Division. “It’s not like they’re the $5 readers at Walmart.”

Cokinos said he didn’t know if the break-in to the LensCrafters store in Bethesda on Dec. 1, in which the thieves made off with $40,000 worth of frames, was related. The items stolen were the same, but the break-in after store hours was different.

Cokinos said that beyond eyeglass stores, there is a wider trend of increased commercial burglaries in the area. He noted several recent arrests in Montgomery County, including thieves suspected of breaking into beauty stores to steal wigs, and the apprehension last month of three men police say are connected to 20 commercial burglaries that occurred in the Silver Spring and Wheaton areas.

A sixth recent daytime theft at an eyeglasses store happened in Georgetown on Jan. 29, at the Focus Optician on Wisconsin Avenue NW. Police said two people walked into the shop about 5:45 p.m. and one used a hammer to smash several display cases.

A police report says they grabbed 30 pairs of designer sunglasses and eyeglasses — most from Cartier — worth a total of $20,000 and stuffed them in a black trash bag.

Officer Makhetha Watson, a D.C. police spokeswoman, said detectives are talking with police in several neighboring jurisdictions about whether the smash and grab theft at Focus Optician could be related to other similar crimes. No definitive link has been ascertained thus far, she said.

No suspect descriptions were available for any of the six recent larcenies, police said.