The Delphine Gallery was robbed at 5:10 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 2. (Photo by Pete Mazzaccaro)

by Pete Mazzaccaro

For Vickie Spangler, owning a store in Chestnut Hill was a dream that came true 16 years ago when she and co-owner Deborah Weiner opened the tiny Delphine Gallery at 8435 Germantown Ave.

It was a dream that she thought just might end on Thursday, Aug. 2, when a man in drag repeatedly pointed a gun at her chest as he emptied “the good case” of its jewelry.

“I’ll shoot you,” he said.

“ I just kept telling him, ‘You don’t have to shoot me. I’m not going to do anything,’” Spangler said in an interview in her shop the next day.

“But there was a moment when I realized this is when he’s either going to shoot me or leave,” she said. “And I was suddenly overwhelmed with thinking what it would be like to be shot. And then he left.”

The man came into the gallery at approximately 5:10 p.m. on the warm evening – a time when Germantown Avenue was still crowded with shoppers and commuters. So when the man first appeared at the door, wearing a dress and wig, Spangler thought it was a disoriented, older woman.

“My thought was that I needed to help her out,” Spangler said.

When she approached, the man removed the wig and immediately pulled a gray gun out of his shopping bag and ordered her to get down on the ground.

As the man left with jewelry, a commuter who saw the man leave called the police. Four young girls outside the store ran in to ask Spangler if she was OK. Spangler called the police, who arrived within five to eight minutes. Police have apparently collected descriptions of the man and the getaway vehicle as well as at least three numbers on the license plate.

Police say they are looking for an African American male, 5’10, with a medium build, 25-30 years of age, based on descriptions from Spangler and other witnesses.  At the time of the robbery, he was wearing a long dark navy blue dress and a shoulder-length braided wig. The robber wore a white silk mask over his face.  Police also say the man fled in a black Ford Explorer

Spangler said that she is sure her gallery was “cased.” She recalled a shopper two weeks ago who said he was shopping for earrings and asked “too many questions” about what Spangler kept in the “good case.”

“I had a gut feeling that something was wrong.”

Initial reports provided by the Philadelphia Police suggested that the value of stolen goods was $50,000, but Spangler said she really is not sure. She said she was insured and was in the process of accounting for all that had been taken. She wasn’t worried about closing the shop. She said she doesn’t have security cameras and never expected to be robbed.

“I thought because of our location, that we’re open only during the day and we’re only a little gift shop, that this would never happened.”

Thursday’s robbery was the first time she’d ever had a gun pointed at her.

Spangler said she was shaken but doing well less than 24 hours later. She said she’d love to see a regular beat cop. (Ironically, a beat cop assigned to Chestnut Hill retired the same day as the robber.)

“My dad was a beat cop who patrolled the streets,” she said. “If they (the city) could afford it, that would be great.”

As Spangler recounted the details of the robbery in her shop the next day, many local store owners dropped by to check in on he and wish her well. A young woman arrived with a box of cookies from Bredenbeck’s Karen Boyd.

More police definitely would not be enough, though, Spangler said. What she’d really like to see is much more cooperation between neighbors and storeowners to all look out for each other.

“We really need to look out for one another,” she said. “What else can you do in times like this but hang on to one another.”