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Thefts dim the joy of family's Christmas tradition in Hamburg

They stole Big Bird – and a penguin too.

“Last year it was a five-foot replica of the Eiffel Tower," said Ken Boris, 35.

For three generations, Boris' family has made a tradition of decking their home on Pierce Avenue in the Village of Hamburg with elaborate holiday decorations.

But now for the third year in a row, they've felt the sting of Scrooge. Not only did someone abscond with his six-foot Big Bird and heirloom penguin decoration last weekend, Elmo and Snoopy were vandalized.

“I mean these are Christmas decorations,” Boris said. “It’s not life and death, but I’d hoped to get them back and I have not.”

Last year when Big Bird was stolen from Boris’ front lawn it was returned, he said, but this year the boomerang bird discovered gone on Sunday morning has been missing for nearly a week.

“I’d like this stopped,” Boris said. “Leave my property alone.”

Law enforcement officials call the theft of outdoor holiday decorations crimes of opportunity. This type of crime lacks premeditation.

“They are committed when the perpetrator has the chance and seizes the moment,” said James Speyer, assistant chief of the Cheektowaga Police Department. “It’s very easy to steal holiday lawn ornamentation late at night when no one is around to notice,” said Speyer. “I think it’s kids most of the time. They seize the moment to do something destructive.

“But if you look at the bigger picture, Christmas décor is just one item that people steal during the holidays,” Speyer said. “They’re stealing delivery packages from doorsteps. They’re stealing merchandise from vehicles parked in driveways and mall lots. Larceny is our number one crime in Cheektowaga. Unfortunately, most articles stolen are not returned.”

Speyer recalled a handful of reported larcenies involving holiday decorations, but said that many residents call to tell police of holiday property loss or vandalism and never follow through to file an official report.

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The theft or vandalism of outdoor holiday decorations is being reported by homeowners, merchants and municipalities throughout the country.

  • In North Houston, a 300-pound ornament valued at $7,000 was stolen one week before Thanksgiving. It was recovered in a field 25 miles away one week before Christmas.
  • When a thief last month took two laser projection lights from the same residence in Staten Island, N.Y., he was caught on surveillance camera and his image was posted on Facebook. The post received more than 80,000 page views, and prompted a change of heart by the thief who returned the decorations and left a written apology.
  • Sometimes the thefts of holiday lawn decorations result in a heartwarming celebration of human spirit, as seen this year in Sacramento, Calif. When five homes in Sacramento were hit with decoration theft, firefighters used their “chow fund” – money used to purchase food for the station house – to buy replacement decorations. They also installed the decorations, scaling roofs in true firefighter form to place the lights where no thief would care to tread.


A family tradition

Ken Boris holds a vandalized Snoopy decoration which he found broken about 50 yards away across the street on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

The Boris family decoration tradition started with his now-deceased grandparents Eugene and Rita Lesniewski, who moved into the house on Pierce between Central and Idlewood avenues in the late ‘80s. Boris remembers decorating with his grandfather and his mother Sandra Boris. She now lives on the second floor and Boris occupies the first floor with fiancé Samantha Richard.

Today, he is a one-man decorating machine.

It took him a whole month this year to place more than $20,000 in extension cords and string lights around his home and put up more than 100 novelty holiday items.

He climbs the roof; he climbs the tree. His preferred fasteners are duct tape and zip ties.

“I’ve just been doing this so long, it’s almost second nature,” said the full-time engineer. “I add something new every year – I’m always on the lookout. I’ve blown a lot of breakers in my time and one extension cord. I know where all the rips and tears are; I can identify my decorations but I can’t keep on buying if they keep on being stolen.”

His light show runs daily from 5 to 11 p.m., with attractions timed to turn on in five-minute increments.

The most common question people ask Boris is how much is his electric bill. “It goes up $200,” he said.


Love thy neighbor

From their vantage point next door to the Boris residence, Bill and Susan Shoemaker – who live in a white ranch built by his grandparents in 1954 – are familiar with the evolving cast of illuminated characters that fills their neighbors’ lawn during the holidays. The display is heavy on Star Wars, toy soldiers, Peanuts characters and animals.

“It is a true love affair,” said Shoemaker, who designs and sells fire apparatus. “I love Christmas and family and tradition. We have some lights up inside the house, around the perimeter of the front windows and that’s enough. Believe me that’s enough. I couldn’t keep up with him [Boris]. It’s the Boris family tradition. You have no idea how happy I am to be their neighbor.”

Several years back, Boris made a sign to hang in Shoemaker's front window. It read “D-I-T-T-O” with an arrow below it pointing to the heavily decorated house. Boris outlined the sign in LEDs.

Last Sunday morning, Boris and his fiancé were heading out on errands when a neighbor approached them and pointed to a Snoopy character, shattered and beat up in the middle of the street.

Boris figured it was run over by a car, but how did it get in the street?

"Great, another one vandalized," he said to his fiancé. But when he noticed the penguin with moving wings – one of the few decorations that remain from his grandfather's day – was missing, it hurt.

Boris estimated the latest round of loss to cost $300 to $350, but nothing can replace the penguin.

“I didn’t think I’d have to use video surveillance in the Village of Hamburg,” said Boris. “I’m not here to put anyone in jail. Just don’t do it.”


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