After robbery, business owner decries decline of downtown

Sutch says $11,000 in merchandise stolen at Seward Street shop

Posted: Monday, January 11, 2010

A downtown business owner whose shop was robbed Sunday said the incident could tip the scales toward closing the business.

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Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

Art Sutch said his photography and digital imaging business is "just scraping by" because of the faltering economy, but Sunday's theft shows city management has allowed downtown to deteriorate.

After receiving a call early Sunday morning about the burglary, Sutch arrived a few minutes later to find police inside the small Seward Street shop, broken glass covering the floor and as much as $11,000 in merchandise stolen.

Glass panels in the front door and several locked display cases had been smashed, and digital cameras, lenses and possibly sets of binoculars were taken.

It was the third theft at the business in six months.

After $850 in camera equipment was stolen last August, Sutch spent $2,100 installing video equipment and new locks at the shop. He suspected the same two men stole the equipment over several days that month and, after asking around the community, found out they were abusing oxycodone.

Oxycodone is a prescription painkiller that can be snorted or smoked to get high. Police have acknowledged its wide abuse in the community.

Sutch identified one of the men for police but was told there wasn't enough evidence to prosecute.

The shop, called Art Sutch Photography and Digital Imaging, has been located in downtown for 18 years. Cash was stolen out of the till once, and a few small items pocketed during the busy tourist season a few years back, but nothing like this year's incidents, Sutch said.

"I've never had these problems until this year." In the past, perpetrators left town on cruise ships, he said. "What really bothers me about this is ... this year it has been locals. And I've asked around; I'm not the only one getting robbed."

Patrol officers did not have any suspects Sunday, Juneau Police Department spokesman David Campbell said, but they would review evidence and the shop's surveillance tape.

Sutch has insurance but isn't sure how much of the theft and damage it would cover.

He said he didn't have complaints about police response but felt disappointed.

"I moved here from New Jersey to get away from this type of crime," he said. "I grew up with junkies on the street. I moved here to get away from that. I don't want my kids to deal with that but the local authorities, they're not acknowledging it."

Comparing downtown to a ghetto, he said "druggies" verbally assault pedestrians and openly beg for money. He blamed city officials.

"The streets are dirty, half the shops are closed but they don't do anything except promote tourism," he said. "We're turning into a cruise ship port and box store depot. Our whole sense of community is going down the drain."

Assembly member Merrill Sanford, who stopped in the photography shop Sunday afternoon, said later in a telephone interview that, in retrospect, he agrees burglaries seem to be up.

Sanford defended city officials on other counts. Dirty streets are due to the time of year, he said, and the economy is to blame for shuttered storefronts.

Sanford said services such as extra police patrols and crossing guards in the summer tourist season are paid for by tourism. The police department itself recommended several patrol positions be left open during the projected two-year, $8 million budget shortfall.

"I don't know how to fix all that," Sanford said, adding that the Assembly is willing to take suggestions.

Sutch said he would visit City Hall today to try to meet with the mayor or city manager and air his complaints.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.



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