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Chicago-area dealers step up security amid rash of break-ins

Published February 8, 2019

CHICAGO (BRAIN) — A spate of at least 10 early-morning smash-and-grab break-ins over the past three weeks at bike shops in and around Chicago has spurred area retailers to rethink their security measures. They’re also sharing information on stolen bikes and security camera footage in the hope of catching the thieves.

Cycle Smithy owner Mark Mattei, whose shop was burglarized around 5 a.m. on Jan. 28, put new security bars on his shop after thieves hit at least two Chicago-area shops a second time.

“I’m not just sitting by hoping for the best. I was expecting to get hit a second time like some of the other dealers, and that’s why I went ahead and put up the security bars. I couldn't figure out what else to do,” Mattei said.

“I spent a couple early days sitting in my shop from 3 to 6 in the morning wondering what the hell I was doing there. What the hell I would actually do if three guys busted through the door. What am I going to do? Offer them a fitting? So I said let’s just button it up more and be a little more secure.”

Security footage circulating among area shops shows a trio of thieves smashing through front doors and making off with as many as six bikes in about a minute’s time. Their faces are obscured by stocking caps and cold-weather face coverings.

“There’s a certain similarity because it’s all happened within three weeks and it seems to always be three guys,” Mattei said. “They’re not being sophisticated, they’re not worried about cameras, they’re not picking a lock. They’re not going through a ceiling or a side wall. They’re just going right through the front of the shop in most cases — alarms and crashing glass be damned. They figure in the morning no one else is going to mess with them. And so far they’ve been right. It’s not a daytime robbery sticking a gun in someone’s face.”

“By the time the alarm company calls the police, they’re long gone,” said Dan Schwanderlik, owner of Dan’s Bike Shop in the Chicago suburb of Berwyn.

In the early hours of Feb. 1, thieves smashed the front door of Schwanderlik shop and made off with two bikes worth $1,200 each. He’s now keeping the road bikes on his sales floor locked up around the clock.

“It seems like that’s all they’re going for is road bikes. I’ve got three racks full of road bikes — probably 30 bikes. I’ve got those all locked up through the back wheels,” he said.

Lou Kuhn, owner of The Pony Shop in Evanston, thought it was just an anomaly when his shop was burglarized on Jan. 30. Then thieves hit the shop again three days later. He tallies the dollar value of the seven stolen bikes and damage to his store at around $38,000.

“The first time we got robbed, I was upset. But you look back and think it hasn’t happened before, and I’ve been in this location for 13 years and never had any kind of issue. You almost look at it as an isolated event. So we did a little stuff like put up a camera and got the door fixed. Then we got broken into again. So from there, we’ve looked at everything we can do from a preventative standpoint,” Kuhn said.

Since the second break-in, Kuhn has installed laminated glass that stays in one piece when smashed, put in a temporary scissor gate across the front of his store, and upgraded his security system. Next he will install roll-down gates to cover the storefront’s facade when the shop is closed. He figures he’ll have spent about $8,000 in new security by the time he’s done.

Brian Miller’s shop, BIcycles Etc. in Lisle, has not been a victim in the recent burglaries. Still, Miller has taken on the task of gathering information on stolen bikes, police report numbers from all the stores, and leads and tips to share with the area’s retail community.

“I’ve got an email list of about 140 dealers and sales reps in the area. I’ve been trying to collect as much information as I can from each of the stores as far as what was taken, as well as the police reports so that if anyone gets any of these bikes in for either repair work or somebody trying to sell it, maybe we can catch these guys. So I’ve got a spreadsheet I’ve been sharing,” he said.

According to the retailers, none of the stolen bikes have shown up on eBay, the local Craigslist or other sales forums so far. The Pony Shop’s Kuhn believes they’re more likely to be sold outside of the Chicago area.

“I think it’s an organized thing. It seems to be the same people. My guess is that these bikes are going into a container and being moved to somewhere else to be resold, whether out of the country or for sure out of the state. It’s too easy to search something on eBay. And on Craigslist you can search your local area, but you can’t search every Craigslist across the county. It would just be easier to move them out of state,” he said.


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