By Matt Bunke and Paul Downer, Community Editors
Watertown’s Marketplace Foods was one of two area grocery stores targeted by burglars within 24 hours earlier this month, crimes that the Carver County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t believe are related, but nonetheless seem to be part of a recent increase in retail burglaries in the area.
In the early morning hours of July 4, one or more burglars reportedly gained access to the Watertown grocery store by cutting a hole in the roof and made off with over $7,000 in cash, as well as cigarettes. Alarms at the store were triggered, but the store was empty by the time Sheriff’s Deputies arrived on the scene.
The following night, one of the glass exit doors at Econofoods in Norwood Young America was broken, and cigarettes and cough medicine were taken. According to an incident report from the Sheriff’s Office, damage to the door was estimated at $1,500 and the total merchandise taken was valued at about $800. At least one suspect was observed wearing dark colored clothing during the incident, but authorities declined specific information in order to avoid compromising the investigation.
Detective Dave Williams of the Carver County Sheriff’s Office said that investigators have not eliminated the possibility that the two crimes could be related, especially given their timing, but said it seemed unlikely because of the different entry methods. He noted that the Watertown burglary, in which access was gained by cutting through the roof, seemed more sophisticated than the NYA robbery, in which the upper part of a glass door was shattered by rocks.
"The fact they’re both grocery stores is interesting, but the way they entered appears different," Williams said. "At this point, we’re not thinking they’re related."
However, the burglary at Econofoods was not the first burglary of a retail business in Norwood Young America in recent months, and the break-in in Watertown had at least some similarities to recent burglaries in both NYA and Waconia regarding the entry method.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, at 8:15 a.m. on March 23, an employee at the Family Dollar store in NYA arrived at work to find that somebody had broken into the store overnight, stolen money from the cash register, and subsequently cut through walls into other stores in the strip mall as well. That crime was strikingly similar to a Jan. 6 burglary in Waconia, in which somebody reportedly cut through the walls into all four businesses in a strip mall along Highway 5.
Williams said there was no indication as to whether any of those crimes were related. However, Williams did say that it seems like business burglaries have been on the rise this year.
"We haven’t seen much of this in the past," he said.
In NYA, Econofoods manager Martin Leon said he wasn’t entirely taken aback by the store’s burglary, since he had heard about the previous night’s incident in Watertown, as well as the other recent NYA burglary. In light of the various incidents, he voiced concern that the consequences might extend beyond the damage and loss already sustained.
"I wish it wouldn’t happen because it’s not good for business, it’s not good for the area," he said. "To me, that puts a black spot on the area. It doesn’t make businesses want to come here. We’re trying to get new businesses in town. This hampers our efforts."
In Watertown, Marketplace Foods owner Jim May said it is always surprising when a crime like this happens in such a small town. Now, he said he’s just concentrating on ways to make his store even more secure.
"You think you have everything in place," he said. "After the fact, you realize some of the changes that need to be made to make sure the business is safe for the future."
Anyone with information related to any of these incidents, or any crime, is asked to contact the Carver County Sheriff’s Office at (952) 361-1212. After hours call (952) 361-1231. To remain anonymous you may leave a message on the tip line at (952) 361-1224.