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Garden center owners up in arms after furniture thieves strike 7 times in 4 months

Garden center owners up in arms after furniture thieves strike 7 times in 4 months
The Armstrong Garden Center on Foothill Boulevard in La Cañada has recently been the target of thieves, who’ve made off with pieces of patio furniture — in some cases entire sets — a reported seven times in the past four months. (Photo by Sara Cardine)

Lightning may not strike the same place twice, but apparently some thieves do.

At least that's been the case at the Armstrong Garden Center in La Cañada Flintridge, where in recent months unknown suspects have repeatedly made off with entire sets of patio furniture from the site's display area fronting Foothill Boulevard.

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An incident overnight April 23-24, during which two chairs and a "butterfly" stand were taken, marks the seventh time the store has been hit since late December, according to reports filed by deputies with the Crescenta Valley Sheriff's Station.

While the value of the items stolen are redacted in the sheriff's reports, the combined loss of each incident for which written records are available exceeded $950, constituting grand theft. Four reports were taken in March. In those reports, deputies referred to two earlier thefts occurring at the location on Dec. 27 and Feb. 28.

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"It's been going on for months," said Sgt. Alan Chu, a detective for the station who investigates such cases. "We've increased our patrols and we're starting to log our checks. Besides catching [the suspects] in the act, we don't have much to go on."

Chu described the surrounding area as extremely dark and without much residential activity after hours. A fence surrounding the property is easily scalable, and trees growing on the east side of the businesses further obscure the view of passersby on Foothill Boulevard. An alleyway behind the store provides quick egress to Indiana Avenue to the east and Alta Canyada Road to the west.

Ian Hydoski, vice president of retail operations for Armstrong's corporate office in Glendora, said he's been made aware of each incident and that the store has taken additional security measures in the wake of the crimes.

"It does happen from time to time, but it hasn't ever happened to my knowledge with this frequency in one location," Hydoski said of thefts from Armstrong Garden Centers. "We've taken a lot of security measures at that location. There have been technology upgrades as well as other things I can't discuss."

Patio furniture sets on display at the Armstrong in La Cañada range from several hundred dollars to nearly $3,000 each. Hydoski said when items are stolen, the lost inventory is typically replaced by the corporation.

"We do have insurance but there's a fairly high deductible, so it has to hit a certain threshold. Otherwise, we just buy the goods again and replace them."

While leads in the case are few, one nearby business owner believes his video surveillance camera may have captured the suspects in the act.

Charlie Kamar, owner of the Union 76 gas and service station at Foothill Boulevard and Alta Canyada Drive, said his surveillance footage shows a Ford F150 with a bed full of furniture pulling out of the alley behind Armstrong and heading south on Alta Canyada before pulling up behind his station on March 24 at around 2:45 a.m.

The suspects appeared to rearrange the items before using one of Kamar's tarps to cover the bed.

"They came and started unloading their furniture — you could see the tags on the furniture, so I knew right away it must be from somewhere around here," he said.

While attempting to exit the property, the truck backed into a gas pump, causing an estimated $4,000 in damage. Kamar said he shared the footage with Crescenta Valley Station detectives.

"At least now we have evidence," Kamar said. "We have the truck. We know what it looks like."

In the meantime, Hydoski said Armstrong will do what it can to prevent future thefts at the La Cañada store. He asked anyone who may have witnessed something unusual to report it to the store or to authorities.

"Any help anyone could provide would be much appreciated," he said.

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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