Hit by burglar, mobbed by support

Uptown Village merchant thinks community help's enough for shop to recover

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith



Glass splinters littered the floor at an Uptown Village shop in an early-morning burglary last Saturday — but the story here isn’t the smash-and-grab that caused thousands of dollars in damage. It’s the friends and neighbors who came to pick up the pieces.

One World Merchant on Main Street stocks imported goods from around the globe, estate sale antiques and work by about 25 local artists. Like many small businesses, the store struggles, and owner Liz Halili was unsure how she would cover the cost of repair.

“I really don’t know what I would have done,” she said.

This was the second break-in since Halili and her partner, David Schmitz, opened the store six years ago.

At 3:38 a.m. March 2, Vancouver police were dispatched to the store at 2315 Main St. A man dressed in black had tried to enter the store through a side glass door, ruining the laminated glass but not gaining access to the store. He then threw a car jack through a large window pane near the front of the shop and stepped inside, trampling a display of pottery by local artist Macrina Harmon. The man smashed a jewelry case, stuffed silver jewelry into a trash can and fled the store.

One might call what happened next the nicest burglary ever.

As he peeled out in his two-toned Chevy pickup truck, the garbage can fell out. The burglar didn’t make off with any merchandise.

Arriving Vancouver police searched the street by flashlight, collecting the jewelry. Officers waited for Schmitz and Halili as they drove to the store from their home in Kelso. An emergency window repair company boarded up the door and the window — free of charge.

That morning, customers and employees from the surrounding businesses helped sweep up the glass and pinned tapestries over the plywood. “They could tell I was pretty devastated,” Halili said.

Since the break-in, she has been storing jewelry in a donated safe and taking it home at night. Pieces range from $5 hemp bracelets to ornate white jade and freshwater pearl necklaces.

Emptying the jewelry displays and setting them back up again adds about 45 minutes to each work day, but Halili worries thieves may be tempted, and she might lose more merchandise.

Many hands pitch in

One criminal’s misdeed, however, brought out a mob of people willing to lend a hand, or a dollar.

Glenn Grossman and Anni Becker organized a “cash mob” to encourage people to shop at One World on Friday, looking to generate enough revenue to replace the glass and the jewelry case and make up for ruined merchandise. Loyal customers and newcomers flocked to the store.

Mighty Bowl, a Vancouver-based food truck serving bean and rice bowls, parked outside the store. Seven people were in line before the truck opened at 11 a.m., and the line didn’t let up till 1:30 p.m. One dollar from each order went to One World.

“It was like a perfect storm of (sunny) weather and people willing to support,” said co-owner Steve Valenta as he served customers from his truck.

Local merchants contributed to the cause by donating inventory. Kimbyl Edwards, a former importer, donated masks, incense and dishes. Portland-based VC Bath & Body Treats sent some extra body care products.

Caryn Stockwell, of Second Star Designs, gave 50 percent of her month’s consignment proceeds to benefit One World.

“If I were in her place, I would hope someone would do that for me,” Stockwell said as she purchased a scarf and some jewelry at the Uptown Village store. “That’s what it’s all about — neighbors helping neighbors.”

Suzy Taylor of Ridgefield heard about the event on Facebook and made a point to visit the store.

“I think it’s sad that it takes something like this to mobilize people,” she said.

Taylor, owner of The Grant House, picks up bread each morning at the Bleu Door Bakery, four doors down, to serve at her restaurant, but had never before stepped foot in One World.

Bleu Door employees, meanwhile, gave free cookies to anyone who presented a receipt from One World. Just one mile away, Latte Da Coffeehouse and Wine Bar baristas gave customers a free cup of coffee if they purchased from One World.

The effort and sense of community were overwhelming for Halili, who said she thinks the proceeds will cover the expenses.

“I can never repay this town for what it’s done for me,” she said.

Vancouver saved the world on Friday — One World, that is.

Patty Hastings: 360-735-4513; http://twitter.com/col_cops; patty.hastings@columbian.com.