Very Recent History: Shoplifters of New York Unite

by Nate Freeman


When Caroline Giuliani allegedly slipped those five beauty products into her purse and allegedly attempted to walk out of the Sephora this week, she (allegedly!) joined the fine ranks of the shoplifters of New York. And it’s a rich history-the compulsive thief Joseph Rosen once called New York “a shoplifter’s paradise,” in a 1997 Times profile . Not every shoplifter can be the progeny of America’s Mayor, but any storeowner with missing inventory knows the city has no shortage of hands with sticky fingers. Here’s a selection of New York-related instances of shoplifting, some from the past and a few incidences from local fiction.

Who’s stealing: Patti Smith
Items stolen: Art supplies for Robert Mapplethorpe
In her new memoir “Just Kids,” Smith explains that it was the propensity toward theft that allowed her and Mapplethorpe to paint at night. She would shoplift their art supplies while living at the Chelsea Hotel, and the couple would pay their rent in paintings.

Who’s stealing: Two teenage kids at the First Rich Gift Shop on St. Mark’s and Third Ave.
Items stolen: A wool baseball cap, James Lee’s life
Lee was manning his store in March 1998 when two teenagers came in and attempted to take the headgear without paying. The gift show owner tried to stop the kids, but was nailed by a punch and later died from the injuries. Employees told the Times Lee “had little tolerance for shoplifters.”

Who’s stealing: Customers at Harlem Deli
Items stolen: A box of cereal, Mohammad Mused’s life
In another instance of a heist gone awry, Mohammad lunged at a man with the heisted breakfast cereal and suffered a heart attack in the effort and collapsed on the floor.

Who’s stealing: Ari, Uzi and Royal in “The Royal Tenenbaums”
Items stolen: cartons of milk
The Wes Anderson film may be set in alternate version of the city-part Salinger whimsy, part 1970s Scorsese grit-but the corner shop where the twin boys follow their grandpa’s lead and slip out with milk is unmistakably a New York bodega. The scene is perhaps the best part of the “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard” montage.

Who’s stealing: Dash Snow, late artist
Item stolen: lots of things!
Ace Boon Kunle, member of Snow’s Irak tagging crew, had this to say in Ariel Levy’s 2007 New York cover story: “But Dash wasn’t like a lot of the derels I was hanging out with who would run out of stores with clothes in their hands. Dash would steal, but it’s the way you steal: I go in and I’m really friendly with the help and I’m smooth. I’ll make it sweet, so the next three or four times I come in the store, it’s all good with the help. Dash got really good at it. One of the things I always say is that a really good graffiti writer will make a good shoplifter-someone who’s used to breaking the law fifteen or twenty times a day.”

Who’s stealing: Blair Waldorf
Item stolen: sunglasses
In the “Gossip Girl” episode “The Grandfather” from season two, Blair and Serena are talking in a store and trying on glasses, when Blair has an epiphany of rebellion: “If I’m somewhere and I can say Blair Waldorf would never do that, guess what”-she slips the sunglasses over her eyes-”I’ll do it.” Then she walks out of the store as Serena gives an impassioned, extended sigh.

And that brings us to Caroline’s romp through Sephora Wednesday afternoon. There are countless other memorable tales of shoplifting in New York, of course, and there will only be more and more. But remember Ace’s advice: it’s about the way you steal.