‘We won’t stand for this’: Spenard stores rally after weekend thefts
A frequent thief accused of taking jewelry from a store along Northern Lights Boulevard has galvanized store owners in Spenard, who say he stole from several businesses in the area last weekend.
According to the Anchorage Police Department’s Facebook page, a felony theft warrant was issued Wednesday for 57-year-old Thomas A. Hill. Hill’s criminal record in Alaska includes multiple convictions for assault, theft and concealing merchandise.
“Hill had stolen several items from Grassroots Fair Trade Store at 1317 W Northern Lights Boulevard,” police wrote.
Grassroots co-owner Elizabeth Dean said Thursday that Hill and an unidentified accomplice — a thin white woman, with long dark hair and sunken eyes — stepped into the store at about 2:40 p.m. Sunday. Although staff usually monitor visitors they consider suspicious or ask them to leave, the store was busy at the time.
Dean said a surveillance video from the store, which she posted Tuesday on Facebook, shows what happened next.
“They kind of just wiped through our jewelry section — as far as we’ve been able to find so far, we’re missing at least $620 in earrings,” Dean said on Thursday. “I just haven’t been able to pause everything and do a thorough inventory check of all the bracelets and rings and everything, because we’re still open for business.”
Most of the jewelry taken in the theft was unique, according to Dean.
“A lot of this was one-of-a-kind art that was made by Third World artisans, that we’re trying to help support through fair trade — and they got it,” she said.
After she posted the video, Dean began to hear word of other thefts reportedly involving Hill and the woman.
“They have hit up almost every small business on this block, it sounds like: Hoarding Marmot, Dos Manos, The Beauty Room, Title Wave [Books],” Dean said. “They seem to almost be plaguing this entire community.”
Title Wave Books owner Angela Libal posted surveillance-video images to Facebook crime-fighting group Alaska Scanner Joe, showing a man who resembled Hill stealing items from the bookstore — which is across the street from Grassroots.
Libal said that Title Wave’s losses from the Sunday theft totaled roughly $400 to $500 in gift merchandise, including about a dozen T-shirts.
“A man and woman came into the bookstore and working together, they gathered up a bunch of our gift merchandise, took it to a behind a bookshelf in the children’s section and then loaded up bags and backpacks and then exited the store,” Libal said. “Unfortunately it wasn’t discovered until just after they had left, but the man was recognized as someone who we have had an issue with.”
None of the stolen Title Wave goods appeared to have been specifically targeted, according to Libal.
“Looking at the surveillance footage for Grassroots, it seemed to be about the same — that they were just grabbing things off tables, indiscriminately taking things,” Libal said.
Libal wrote that the man in the video had worked with a female accomplice to steal merchandise, “distracting staff and loading up bags and backpacks before leaving the store in under 10 minutes.”
Police have not named the woman seen in the surveillance footage or said she is charged with any crimes.
Anchorage police took Title Wave’s initial report of the theft, according to Libal, then intensified their response as the combined losses rose beyond the $500 threshold separating felony and misdemeanor theft. Investigators visited the store, quickly linking the Title Wave and Grassroots cases.
Dozens of people commented on Libal’s Facebook post, claiming the man in the photos was Hill and accusing him of other thefts. Libal acknowledged those comments in an update, but declined to identify the man because Title Wave staff don’t personally know him.
In response to the social-media outpouring, Libal began visiting the businesses who responded to them and meeting their employees face-to-face. She also posted wanted posters for Hill.
During those visits, Libal said, she heard from some store owners who were apathetic about reporting their losses to APD due to a drumbeat of theft.
“I understand that it’s so prevalent that it might feel like it’s overwhelming and there’s not a need,” Libal said. “There’s just as many people who said, ‘You know, they were in my business;’ about half of those said, ‘Yeah, we didn’t call the police because what’s the point?’”
Dean said small business owners in Spenard haven’t had close ties, but the thefts have brought them together to address the problem.
“More and more people are starting to go to the Spenard Chamber of Commerce meetings,” Dean said. “Angela from Title Wave and myself were talking about maybe forming a Facebook group for small businesses, specifically addressing photos of thieves that we’ve caught in our store.”
Hill didn’t remain at large for long Thursday, according to APD spokeswoman Renee Oistad.
“At 2:20 [p.m.] he was taken into custody at Carrs [Safeway] Aurora Village after APD received a tip that he was in the store,” Oistad wrote in an email.
Dean called both the extent of the losses at her business and the scope of Hill’s apparent crime spree “incredibly violating.”
“Knowing it happened to so many other small businesses in the area is…” Dean said, her voice trailing off. “But everyone seems to be coming together and saying together that we won’t stand for this, and that’s a comforting feeling.”
Libal echoed that sentiment Thursday, saying she planned to attend Spenard’s next Chamber of Commerce meeting.
“This isn’t about the two people that were stealing on Sunday,” Libal said. “This is about creating a network so that we could share when we have problem people.”
Court records Thursday listed two counts of second-degree theft in Hill’s $750 arrest warrant. Initial release conditions in the warrant bar him from returning to Grassroots Fair Trade or Title Wave’s street addresses, should he be freed on bail.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify the woman seen in the surveillance footage has not been named by police in connection to the thefts in Spenard.
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