Ciao, Italia! owner Carmine Astuto was sleeping just after 1 a.m. Monday, May 11, when he got a call from a Longboat Key Police Department dispatcher. Blue Dolphin Café owner Rob Ball and Longboat Resort Wear owner Mahesh Mirchandani also got calls. So did Exit Art owner Debbie Stanick and Don Frank Salon co-owners Greg Koss and David Roy.
The reason for the calls: Their businesses in the Centre Shops of Longboat Key had been burglarized.
According to Longboat Key Police Capt. Steve Mislyan, patrol officer Dean Greathouse pulled into the Centre Shops, located at 5370 Gulf of Mexico Drive, just before 1 a.m. Monday for a routine patrol of the plaza. As Greathouse pulled into the shopping center, he saw two men take off running toward the back of the complex, and he called the other Longboat officer on duty for backup. Upon exiting the vehicle, he noticed a broken window at Ciao, Italia! and made a radio call to dispatch. He approached the plaza and saw that more windows were broken.
Greathouse put out a call for assistance, to which Bradenton Police Department officers and a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office K-9 unit responded.
The K-9 unit tracked the scent of the suspects into Sandhamn Place condominium, which is next to the Centre Shops, and to the water’s edge at Sarasota Bay, where the scent stopped.
Officers later canvassed the area and recovered some stolen items on the Centre Shops property.
Owners of each of the five businesses arrived at the scene shortly after getting the early-morning phone calls from police.
At Longboat Resort Wear, Mirchandani said he sustained the biggest financial loss. The burglars stole between $1,600 and $1,700 from his cash register — all of the cash from that weekend’s sales.
“With the recession, this is another recession,” Mirchandani said.
Astuto said the burglars stole approximately $600 from his cash register.
“It sounds like it was a quick snatch-and-grab,” he said.
At Exit Art, Stanick said that the burglars made out with approximately $180, along with more than three dozen watches and pieces of jewelry. According to Stanick, police recovered an Exit Art bag with 38 watches and jewelry items. Although police currently have the bag and its contents to examine for evidence, Stanick said that the items would account for most or all of the stolen merchandise.
Ball arrived at Blue Dolphin Café to find open drawers and cabinets. The restaurant doesn’t keep money in the cash register overnight, Ball said, so the restaurant didn’t lose a significant amount of money, although the burglars did steal between $40 and $60 in rolled change that was stored in a cigar box.
The Don Frank Salon, which also doesn’t keep money in its cash register at night, didn’t have any money or products stolen, although co-owner Roy said he found some open drawers.
The cost of repairing the broken windows ranged from $200 to $500 for each business — and, according to Koss, “a night of sleep.”
The investigation is ongoing. The Longboat Key Police Department is pursuing leads and sharing information with other law-enforcement agencies, Mislyan said. Police are also examining similarities between the Centre Shops incident and business burglaries that have recently occurred in nearby areas, such as Anna Maria Island.
Business owners expressed shock that the burglary occurred in what they always considered a safe location.
“In 20 years, it’s never happened,” Mirchandani said.
“Knowing that they would have time to break into five stores kind of freaks you out,” Stanick said. “I was just surprised by how much they could do in that amount of time.”
Some business owners said that they would take new security precautions. Mirchandani, whose store is the only one of the five burglarized that has an alarm, said that he has taken money from the cash register home at night since the burglary. Astuto said he will consider installing an alarm at Ciao, Italia! He also said he won’t leave cash at his restaurant again.
“You wouldn’t think it would happen on the Key,” Astuto said. “But it happens everywhere.
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected]om.