Larry LaRue

Where are they now? 6 months after $1 million jewelry heist, Puyallup shop still in business

Do an online search for the Puyallup jewelry store Gold Definitions, and among the first things that pops up is, “$1 million jewelry heist.”

Not the impression store owner Lesa Catt wanted to give prospective customers.

Still, on June 1 a team of what police called “professional” thieves did break into the suites on either side of Catt’s store, then through a wall and into Catt’s company safe. What they made off with was all of the shop’s inventory.

Worse, the jewelry of 95 customers who had brought it in for repair or cleaning was taken, too.

“I lost some of my faith in humanity,” Catt said. “It was one thing to take jewelry and gold — quite another to take the personal items of customers. It was so disappointing, so heartless.”

Back in June, Catt vowed to make good on everything her customers lost. On Friday, that promise was completed.

“We took care of our 95th and last customer,” Catt said. “Ninety percent of the jewelry we created to replace what was stolen exceeded the value of the original pieces.”

That said, Catt knows the value was only a part of what her customers lost.

She tried to explain the depth of those losses in a June column.

“One woman had two rings soldered together for a June wedding. Now we’re trying to rebuild that ring for her, and they’ve put the wedding back until August,” Catt said.

“One gal was going to wear her grandmother’s pearls at her wedding. They were more than 50 years old. How do you replace that for her? We’re looking for estate jewelry, trying to match the age of the pearls to replicate the originals.

“Another customer lost her daughter four years ago, and wanted a ring of her daughter’s fastened to one of her own,” Catt said. “Now they’re both gone.”

After that column, Catt said, a dozen people came to the shop and volunteered their pearls for the woman who wanted to wear them in her wedding.

“It turned out none of them were quite right, and we ended up buying vintage pearls off eBay,” Catt said. “In every case, we tried to come as close as we could to matching the design of what they lost.”

Two weeks after the break-in, Catt wondered whether the store would stay open and, if so, change locations. She’s answered both questions.

“We were underinsured because after nearly 20 years in business, it never occurred to me we could lose everything,” Catt said. “Our insurance covered about $240,000.

“We’ve put a lot of debt on our credit cards, but we’re staying in business. A lot of that has to do with the community support we’ve gotten — more than 200 people have come in since June to tell us to keep going.”

And as for moving from a Meridian strip mall?

“Let’s say we’ll almost certainly move in about 18 months, when our lease is up,” Catt said. “We have an out-of-state landlord, and his only response to the break-in was to send me a bill for the damage to the wall.

“I don’t feel secure here, it’s that simple.”

There were lessons learned the hard way, Catt said.

“We’ve moved our safe away from a shared wall,” Catt said. “And we had to replace the safe, which cost $7,000. And we upped our insurance. We’re now covered for more than the value of our inventory.”

She has advice for anyone who owns jewelry, too.

“If it’s worth more than $1,000, photograph it,” Catt said. “Trying to describe it if it’s stolen is difficult, which makes proving its value difficult. Any time we take jewelry in from a customer now, we photograph it.”

It has taken Catt months to begin enjoying her business again.

“Everything was so negative, it was hard to come in some days,” Catt said. “Our customers were great. They were brokenhearted, angry so was I — but no one sued. And now everyone has been taken care of.

“It reached a point where I wouldn’t wear my own jewelry to the shop, because it made me feel guilty. I still had mine; a lot of my customers didn’t.

“I’m dealing with it. It’s getting a little easier. But if I think about it too much, I start to cry again.”