Jewelry Theft Becomes Unlikely Source of Holiday Cheer

It isn’t every day when a jewelry theft becomes a source of community good will, stellar publicity, and the possibility of turning a criminal straight, but then there probably aren’t many people as creative as Erik Runyan.

The owner of Erik Runyan Jewelers, a 92-year-old family business in Vancouver, Wash., was working behind the counter on Nov. 14, as he normally does, when a person came in for a watch and necklace repair. Runyan did the work for free. But while his back was turned, the “customer” took a 14k diamond tennis bracelet, valued at nearly $2,000, which was on top of a display case.

Portland, Ore., television station KPTV Fox 12 aired the story, which included store surveillance video of the theft and comments from Runyan, who expressed disappointment and anger that someone he treated so well would rob him. 

On Thanksgiving Day, Runyan said, he was having dinner with his family when the Vancouver Police Department called and told him that an anonymous tipster said the bracelet had been returned to the store. Again, the surveillance camera caught what looked like the same man placing the bracelet under the front doormat outside the store while it was closed.

That would have been the end of the story, but after watching a broadcast about a KPTV-12 toy drive, Runyan donated the necklace to the drive so the television station would turn it into toys.

Here, the story takes another turn. “I donated the bracelet to them in the hopes that they could have generated money, but the news editor said they really didn’t know what to do with this,” Runyan told JCK. “They’re not in the jewelry business. So I took it back and vowed to give, in some way [to the toy drive].

He succeeded. Along with his wife, Leslie, he took his daughters Erin, 16, Megan, 14, and Paige, 11, on a $1,600 shopping spree for toys to donate to the charity. KPTV-12 cameras and at least one local newspaper, The Columbian, came along to report on the event.

Runyan chose a local toy store, Kazoodles, for the buying spree, giving another independent retailer additional business and publicity. In return, the owner of the toy store gave Runyan a 20 percent discount, which brought the value of the toys to nearly $2,000.

Runyan has received a great deal of community support for his acts.

“It’s amazing the amount of people who have called to say, ‘I saw you on TV and I appreciate what you have done,’” he said. “It has brought so much good will in the community. I saw the mother of a family friend in town and she said, ‘I had a tear in my eye because I was so proud of what you’ve done.’”

What it hasn’t turned into is more sales for the jeweler. The bracelet remains in inventory, and he describes business as soft.

He said he’s sharing the story with the industry in the hopes that it makes others feel as good as it has made him, his family, and his employees feel during this slow economy.

To this day Runyan doesn’t know who stole the bracelet and why he returned it. Even though he has received some tips about the case, he told the police he isn’t interested in pursuing it.

“The person returned the bracelet, and it turned into a story that made people feel good.”

To view local television and newspaper coverage, go to the following links:

Captions: Top, Erik Runyan; Second photo, thief in action captured by surveillance video.

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