Theft a concern for some, not an issue for others at weekly market
When you move as many people through downtown Rochester as Thursdays on First has this summer — organizers put the weekly average at 15,000 — there's bound to be a few people with sticky fingers.
Figure in the number of vendors set up each week — 119 — and the number of weeks the market runs — 13, with the last market this week on Thursday — and the occasional theft is all but inevitable.
"I think you can expect it to a certain degree," said vendor Amy Brooks. "It's part of being here, being outside."
Some $650 was stolen from a Rochester Senior Center quilting group this month, and other vendors report either being hit by thefts or hearing about friends having things taken.
Even though she had three pieces of jewelry stolen in one day earlier this summer, vendor Marcie Mix wasn't overly concerned.
"On the whole, it's pretty good down here," she said.
Despite some problems with theft at the event, Thursdays on First remained very popular throughout the summer, said Jon Eckhoff, executive director of the Rochester Downtown Alliance, which puts on the event.
"Thursdays on First has improved in almost every aspect, from the number of people that attend, from the layout, which provided more walking room, from the quality of the music. And we were blessed with very good weather this year," Eckhoff said.
He estimates an average attendance of between 12,000 and 20,000 at Thursdays on First, depending upon the weather and the musical entertainment. He said he noticed this year that the plaza stayed busier throughout the day, rather than only during lunch and dinner times.
"Last year, it seemed that it got very empty between 1:30 p.m. and 5 p.m., but this year we had a steady stream of people ... during the afternoon," he said.
There were a number of shoplifting reports during Thursdays on First last year, leading to theft-prevention seminars to be conducted for some businesses downtown, according to Rochester Police Department crime prevention specialist Darrel Hildebrant. The police department has also sought to increase its presence at the market, he added
He hasn't received any calls about shoplifting at Thursdays on First this year, Hildebrant said, though he added it's likely some shoplifting is still going on.
O&B Shoes and About Face reported no problems with shoplifting, but people familiar with the market said that neighboring business Tangerine at Wildflowers, a business that specializes in small, quirky gift items, has been relatively hard hit.
Shoplifting has been a big issue at the store during Thursdays on First, said owner Joan Blakley-McCoy. She's hired a security guard to watch the door on Thursdays and increased Thursday staffing from three employees last year to five on Thursdays this year.
She's also banned strollers from the store on Thursdays and has a sign outside saying children 16 and younger can't enter without an adult.
"Overall, I think it went well" this summer, Blakley-McCoy said, although some shoplifting is likely still happening. "If they're going to steal, they're going to steal."
There have been "a few unfortunate instances" at Thursdays on First as the market has grown the past few years, but not too many overall, according to Heidi Mestad of the Rochester Downtown Alliance.
"I don't want to minimize any of the thefts," she said, "but you're going to have people who take opportunities wherever you are."
— Post-Bulletin reporter Edie Grossfield contributed to this report.