Looted: Hip-hop store an Isabel victim

Quinton Harrell heard a voice on day three of the power outage following Hurricane Isabel that told him he should spend the night at his store, Charlottesville Players, which sells urban wear. Harrell didn't heed that voice, and the shop at 801 West Main apparently became the only Charlottesville business to be looted in the aftermath of the storm.

Power outages plagued businesses up and down West Main. Restaurants couldn't open, gourmet markets lost their inventories of paté and brie, and Starr Hill Music Hall had to cancel at least three concerts.

Harrell has a security system that includes four video cameras. But with the power out, there were no electronic eyes to see who broke a side panel of a front window and took $5,000 worth of merchandise in the wee hours of September 21.

"Somebody," reports Harrell, "came in here and had a field day."

Clothing labels taken were Azzure, Rocawear, Converse sweatsuits, J.Lo jumpsuits, and Sean John jeans and t-shirts. "I'm the go-to spot for urban wear," Harrell says.

Even more galling, "Word got back to me Sunday afternoon that a guy was out on the street selling jeans for next to nothing," says Harrell.

He was awakened around 2am September 21 with a call from the police. Harrell and his girlfriend camped out in the store the rest of the night, and opened for business the next day. Police are investigating the breaking and entering.

Insurance won't help Harrell recoup his losses because this is his seventh or eighth break-in. "My insurance company dropped me last burglary," he says. "They said I needed bars. The city ordinance doesn't allow bars."

(Actually, Harrell could install bars behind glass, says Board of Architectural Review chair Joan Fenton, but because he's located in a design control district, his store would have to have approval to install exterior bars.)

At first, spokespersons for Charlottesville and Albemarle reported no instances of looting, but after hearing about the Players incident, City spokesman Maurice Jones confirmed that the break-in was being investigated.

A situation in Fluvanna also sounds like a storm-related crime. There, a man was arrested for breaking into a powerless Home Source store in Fork Union at the height of Isabel on September 18 and absconding with $4,000 worth of chainsaws, televisions, and DVDs, according to the Daily Progress. Marshall Gault, 54, has been charged with breaking and entering and grand larceny.

Harrell wouldn't call his break-in "riot-type" looting, but he does feel somebody took advantage of the power-less situation. He describes the burglars as "real neat," cleaning out the merchandise and leaving empty racks.

Harrell is aware of looting in Norfolk and Portsmouth. "One store looked open for business, there were so many people going in and out," he says.

"With me being the only clothing store on West Main Street, I'm a perfect target," he acknowledges– although some larcenous gourmands might see defenseless foie gras as another tempting target.

Harrell opened the store in 1997, and after his string of break-ins, he questions whether he's getting adequate police coverage. "They park at the old U-Haul parking lot," which is on the other side of the bridge from his store. He wonders whether with better coverage, "I wouldn't have as many burglaries."

Despite the latest hefty loss, Harrell quotes Timex when he says he won't turn his back on Charlottesville's hip-hop fashionistas: "I take a licking and keep on ticking."

Charlottesville Players proprietor Quinton Harrell displays one of the many projectiles lobbed into his store during break-ins.