In what may be an unprecedented crime in a neighborhood flush with luxury stores, a determined band of thieves smashed a car into the Chanel store on Newbury Street early Friday and grabbed about 20 handbags before fleeing in a waiting Jeep SUV, Boston police said.
One of the suspects drove a small Nissan sedan directly into the store, located at 6 Newbury St., around 4:30 a.m., battering through plate glass windows and window frames until the vehicle came to a stop on the showroom floor, police said.
At least two suspects then went into the store and snatched an estimated 20 handbags from shelves before running outside onto Newbury Street, where they jumped into the waiting Jeep SUV described by witnesses as white with silver trim, Sergeant Detective John Boyle, a department spokesman, said Friday.
“It was pretty well planned,” he said, adding that police do not yet know if the suspects are part of an organized group of thieves specializing in robbing luxury stores.
The use of a car to execute what police call a smash and grab robbery has “never” happened before in the Back Bay, which includes Newbury Street, said Meg Mainzer-Cohen, who has led the Back Bay Association for the past 22 years as its executive director.
“The Back Bay is an extremely safe location for business. And I do look at this as being an unusual situation. It sounds to me as a novice that this was targeted, it was planned, it was specific,” she said. “We will have to have a targeted plan to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Mainzer-Cohen said the Chanel store is a standout among Newbury Street stores because its design emphasized street level plate glass windows for display while most stores are housed in former brownstones with porches of stone and brick.
“I look at this situation at Chanel as being a very serious incident,” she said. “We are going to be sitting down with the Boston Police Department, look at this incident and look at how to incorporate further preventive measures into businesses on Newbury Street.”
Former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, who now runs a security consulting firm, said he believed the robbery was not a crime of opportunity, but instead came after the perpetrators scoped out the building, likely visited the store, and tracked police patrols in the neighborhood.
“There was definitely a plan beforehand and a number of people involved in the plan,’’ he said. “But they’re not necessarily a professional crew…This is pretty blunt force. That doesn’t indicate a level of sophistication, it does indicate a level of audacity.”
Thieves have long used vehicles to break into retail stores and banks. However, the fact that this group of thieves left a car behind was unexpected, Davis said.
Davis said businesses and property owners may need to add another layer of security to ward off such thefts. The most effective, he said, would be to install bollards in front of the buildings.
Workers at nearby businesses expressed some concern about their personal safety and the neighborhood.
“It’s a little scary,” said Sonika Miller, 41, and an assistant manager at Salon Mario Russo on Newbury Street. “I was nervous for the people that live upstairs and if there’s any pedestrians, you know, in the morning with a car driving like that.”
For John, who works at a retailer down the block from Chanel and asked that his last name not be used, ramping up security has been a concern since the summer of 2020, when some retail shops became the target of looters. The store he works at had to get a window replaced.
“We’ve been on elevated alert, very much aware of that kind of thing,” he said.
Cameron McCarthy, assistant operations manager for Action Emergency Services, which was cleaning up glass at the Chanel store Friday, said the damage affected three rooms in the center of the store, but glass was inside every room.
Clare McLeod, 23, was on her way to work when she saw the broken glass. She said the incident was startling but the high concentration of luxury stores could draw such activity.
“I can understand why the street would be targeted because there is so much valuable merchandise,” she said.
She didn’t think there was a need for more security, however.
“I’m so safe. I feel super safe,” McLeod said. “Obviously, these are chance incidents, but this is still a really safe area.”
Hanna Mak, who lives nearby, said she planned to go to the Chanel store after her morning appointment. She said she wasn’t surprised to see the store had been robbed.
“I feel like a lot of luxury stores are a primary target,” Mak said. “Maybe with the current climate, luxury goods are really hot.”
Witnesses described one of the suspects seen inside the store as a man about 6 feet tall and that the second suspect appeared to be a woman who was about 5 feet3 inches tall, both of whom were dressed all in black, Boyle said.
The getaway SUV was seen heading towards Massachusetts Avenue from the store, Boyle said.
Boston firefighters were called to the scene to assess the safety of the building, and declared the site to be structurally sound despite the damage to the front of the store, Boyle said.
No injuries were reported.
The dollar value of the stolen items wasn’t immediately available.
No arrests were reported and police said they are continuing to investigate, including determining whether the car used as a battering ram was reported stolen.