Vulnerable small businesses targeted in 20-plus break-ins

Two suspects have been arrested in a handful of heists. Police in two counties continue to investigate.

MILL CREEK — This thief only took $3 in loose change.

If that had been the end of it, it wouldn’t sting too bad for Q Nails in Mill Creek.

But it was the $800 price tag of the broken glass.

And the hundreds of dollars for a new security system.

And the lost business for 10 days, when customers took one look at a boarded-up door and drove off.

And realizing there had been so many others.

At least 16 nail salons, four hair salons and one dog-grooming business have been hit by burglars across Snohomish County this summer, among other mom-and-pop shops in the same strip malls on the same nights, according to police reports compiled by The Daily Herald.

Detectives suspect many are connected, but exactly how many remains under investigation.

Virtually all of the targets are small, local businesses. They’re clustered in cities along I-5 and Highway 9.

“If we knew this, I would prepare,” said Henry Tran, an immigrant from Vietnam whose wife runs Q Nails. “I would’ve had an alarm system installed already.”

The damage to Q Nails was found on a morning in late August, perhaps the 16th and final nail salon hit in six weeks in the county. Tran didn’t realize the scale of the problem, however, until his wife posted a photo of the mess on Facebook, and was bombarded with pictures from other salon owners, showing their own damaged store fronts.

In two nights in Arlington, for example, glass windows were shattered at four nail salons. Next-door neighbors of two of those businesses — a teriyaki restaurant and a dry-cleaner — were hit along 169th Place NE.

Common themes turn up in almost every report: several stores struck in a row, in the middle of the night, broken windows, and a quick but messy getaway.

Cameras caught a man in a hoodie using a glass-breaking tool at one of the spas on Aug. 5, according to Arlington police reports. He tried but failed to bust out two windows, but then found a lower, weaker window to break. He crawled inside and discovered the till was empty.

Other stores have lost hundreds of dollars in cash and gift cards. All are stuck with a repair bill.

Sometimes cameras had been set up, but weren’t on. Other times there were no cameras at all. But with so many break-ins, police were bound to get clear pictures at some point.

A barber shop, a nail salon and a T-Mobile store were hit all in a row in Snohomish one night in July. Cameras at T-Mobile caught footage of two masked men. Within two hours, Silver Lake saw more break-ins, at a noodle house, a teriyaki restaurant, a barber shop and another nail salon.

Police spotted two men in a Chevron parking lot, sitting in the suspected getaway van — a stolen minivan out of Edmonds. The driver got out and bolted for the woods, wearing a backpack, according to charging papers.

Security cameras showed the fleeing man had a large letter “M” tattooed under his right eye, and another tattoo on his neck, according to reports filed in court. Police later found he wore the same clothes as a suspect in the T-Mobile heist.

In late August, a man was caught on camera breaking into businesses, including a nail salon just outside of Mill Creek, a couple of miles from Q Nails. His face was covered, except for his cheeks, with the large tattoo of an M, according to court papers.

Detectives put a name to the suspect, 30. He had been living in Kirkland. He was arrested for investigation of 19 felony charges on Sept. 8. He remained in the Snohomish County Jail on Friday, in lieu of $35,000 bail. Detectives in King and Snohomish counties are working on the cases.

In the meantime, prosecutors have charged the passenger in the stolen van with three counts of second-degree burglary, for the spree in Silver Lake. In his seat, police found a window punch, and he had a cut on his cheek, as if from a shard of glass, according to charging papers.

That man, 21, is out of jail on $10,000 bail. In charges against him, prosecutors note the contents of his backpack.

Two cellphones, with security devices attached.

Cash, in small bills.

The credit card of a woman with a Chinese name, wrapped in a receipt to a noodle house.

A baggie of crystals that tested positive for meth.

And in his left shoe, pieces of broken glass.

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; chutton@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.

This story has been changed to show the correct age of one of the suspects as 21.

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