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Jewel thieves strike Amherst store in Hollywood-style heist

When Joel Jaffe marched up to the front door of his Transit Road jewelry store on a Monday morning last month, he noticed part of the lock was missing.

At the nail salon next door, as well as the cosmetics store on the other side of his business, the same thing had happened.

Jaffe, owner of Amherst Jewelers, thought it was a prank. He pried open his front door with a screwdriver he borrowed from a neighbor and went inside. Glancing at his showcases, nothing seemed amiss.

But when he got to the back of the store, he saw signs of trouble – a 5-foot hole in the wall between his shop and the nail salon.

And a 2-foot-square hole had been sawed into his store's safe.

Its contents – $300,000 worth of diamonds, gold, silver and other expensive pieces of jewelry from the showcases the owner locked up when he closed for the weekend – were gone.

"It's like you see in the movies. These guys knew what they were doing," said Jaffe, who runs Amherst Jewelers with his wife, Brenda.

This was no common smash-and-grab burglary.

Amherst Police Department Assistant Chief Charles Cohen, whose department has made no arrests in the caper, described this crime as being more sophisticated.

In the overnight hours from July 23 to 24, the thieves cut several wires entering the jewelry store at the utility pole near the street. They covered the exterior lights at the back of the building with black spray paint to dim the view of what was happening from homes behind the plaza.

The burglars spent about two hours inside the jewelry store, police believe.

Burglars broke through this wall to get into Amherst Jewelers on Transit Road last month. Concrete blocks have patched the hole left behind, but drywall remains missing. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Nobody knows why the jewelry store's alarm wasn't triggered, Jaffe said police have told him.

And while this type of burglary is rare, it's especially unusual in Amherst, a town with a reputation for low levels of crime. For years, the town has been ranked as among the safest municipalities in the country.

Amherst had only 185 burglaries reported in 2015, according to FBI data.

Police have called Jaffe every few days with updates on the investigation, Jaffe said. Police said they have a few leads.

Jaffe, whose family opened Jaffe Jewelers in Niagara Falls in 1941 and moved the business to Amherst about 25 years ago, has reopened his store, but there's not much merchandise to sell. He thought he might have to take months to rebuild his inventory.

But a friend – who is also competitor in the jewelry business – is stepping in.

Jeff Bean, owner of M.A. Laurie Jewelers in Williamsville, has known Jaffe for years and has had a business relationship with him in the past.

"We were just heartbroken when this whole thing happened," Bean said.

Bean is hosting a "Friends of Amherst Jewelers" event at his Main Street store Aug. 25 and 26. Jaffe will get the proceeds from the sales, which will provide a boost for him to replenish his inventory at the Transit Road store.

"We're essentially going to give him a store for the day," Bean said.

Bean reached out and offered the help, Jaffe said. He said he was touched by the gesture.

"I was breathless," Jaffe said. "I didn't know what to say."

The fundraiser will be held from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 25 and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 26. M.A. Laurie Jewelers is located at 5456 Main.

Amherst police ask anyone who may have any information about the crime to call 689-1311.

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