A pair of robberies three years apart served as a one-two punch of lessons learned and changes made, then tweaked, at Snowden’s Jewelers in Wilmington, N.C.
Chris Snowden has operated Snowden’s Jewelers since opening it in 1990 with his father, now-retired jeweler P.C. Snowden. The elder Snowden was vice president of the A.A. Friedman Company and Chris grew up helping the stores on occasion and learning jewelry repair at a young age.
Snowden’s has stayed in the same shopping center on South College Road for 32 years, moving to a next-door space a few years ago to accommodate its growth to 3,000 square feet. The store boasts its signature Wilmington watch and Destination Bracelet collections as well as ring and pendant designs by Snowden himself.
Chris helped found the trade group Southeastern Jewelers Alliance, which meets quarterly to share ideas, and he’s an administrator for the NC, SC, VA, GA, TN Jewelers Helping Jewelers Facebook group.
And now, Snowden has some advice for other jewelers, based on his two-part experience with bad guys.
The first cut was the deepest: In September 2018, Hurricane Florence aggravated an existing vulnerability – an easily breached standard glass storefront – by throwing in a power outage that left the store without surveillance video. So, when an opportunistic robber took advantage of the storm turmoil, no footage was recorded. To date, the culprit has yet to be identified and captured.
“The guy broke a hole in the front glass and climbed right in,” Snowden recalls. The store sustained a substantial loss of merchandise – enough that Snowden doesn’t care to detail – and then an insurance exclusion made the experience especially bitter.
“None of the losses were covered because they occurred during a named storm, so I ended up taking a loss,” he recalls. They had been with their insurance company for 29 years, and they wouldn’t cover the loss, so they switched insurers, said Snowden.
Fast forward to September 2021: By this time, Snowden had installed laminated safety glass that can break but stays together in the frame. And he’s secured his most valuable merchandise, leaving only minor items visible in showcases.
But despite it all, a very determined robber made it through and absconded with a few items.
According to a post by Snowden on his regional Jewelers Helping Jewelers Facebook group, the robber struck the laminated door 32 times with a wrench “and then mule kicked it 14 times before the glass came out of the frame.”
On his excellent security video, Snowden witnesses it all, including the notable fact that the robber worked very hard and got tired enough to step away from his arduous task several times to take breaks.
“As he’s crawling through, his left pants leg gets caught and reveals an ankle monitor,” Snowden says. “So, the monitor is pinpointing exactly where he is at 6 a.m. on September 4. Also, he cut the crap out of himself and there’s blood all over the store and on the sidewalk, so we have DNA.”
The robber also left fingerprints and the wrench itself, which he threw in a flower bed.
And after all that effort, he ended up breaking into only one showcase, which Snowden says contained low-value ever&ever® prototype jewelry.
It took two months for the local police department and county sheriff’s department working together to locate and arrest the suspect. He was locked up in connection with previous breaking-and-entering incidents and authorities plan to charge him with the Snowden’s B&E upon his release.
As for the latest tweak: In addition to replacing the laminated glass, which did its job very well, Snowden has ordered a glass-break sensor. His alarm company had previously talked him out of it.
“They said it causes too many false alarms,” says Snowden. Supposedly the noise of hammering on a mandrel could trigger a false alarm, but Snowden argues that such noise is not an issue when store operators arm the alarm as everyone is leaving the store for the night.
After two robberies, the second one being minor compared to the first, Snowden has a few recommendations:
“First, check your insurance coverage. … See what’s excluded from the merchandise loss. For me, during the first break-in, it was a named storm. Other insurers might say ‘civil unrest.’” Snowden says.
“Second, get laminated safety glass with a caulk named Dowsil. It can break, but it stays together in the frame.” Not every robber will be as determined as the one who hit Snowden’s.
“And finally, get the glass-break sensor.” Snowden believes that first wrench strike would have triggered the alarm, and he’s willing to find out if there are numerous false alarms as the alarm company argued.
Snowden says if he doesn’t get that alarm sensor soon, he can change alarm companies too.