Local shoplifting ring arrest clouds 'Black Friday'

By TOMI L. WILEYSpecial to The Wilson Post

MT. JULIET -- During what has been described as a “quiet but successful” Black Friday weekend in Mt. Juliet, police officers foiled and apprehended a team of shoplifters who had hit several area retailers and are facing felony theft charges, authorities said Tuesday.

Michael Demonde Starks, 24, and Erica Nicole James, 24, both of Lebanon, were arrested at Providence MarketPlace just after 8 p.m., Friday. Mt. Juliet Police Officer Mike Roundtree saw the loss prevention officer from TJ Maxx involved “in a scuffle on the sidewalk” outside the store, according to MJPD Det. David Stolinsky and the filed police report.

Starks had approximately $900 in stolen clothing which was returned to TJ Maxx that day, and a search of the suspect’s vehicle revealed approximately $1,000 worth of stolen merchandise from Dollar General Store and various area retailers. Stolinsky said the investigation as to which Dollar General the merchandise came from is still ongoing.

According to the report, one of the suspects allegedly had a knife.

Both Starks and James have been charged with theft of merchandise over $500, which are felony charges, Stolinsky said. Their General Sessions Court date is Jan. 12, 2010, and Stolinsky said they will most likely be bound over to the grand jury.

“Other than that, it was very quiet,” Stolinsky said, adding that people were camped out at Best Buy in the shopping center beginning at 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, and at 4:45 a.m. on Black Friday there were around 2,000 people waiting to get into Target.

“There was a line outside of LifeWay Christian Bookstore,” Stolinsky said. “Last year the crowds dropped off around noon, but this year Providence was steady all day, and there were no real traffic problems except people trying to leave.”

Mt. Juliet Economic Development Director Kenny Martin said that JC Penney at Providence was “the top in the region” in sales, and that the store had “fabulous” Black Friday sale numbers.

“Everyone I’ve talked to experienced brisk sales,” Martin said. “The two Krogers did better than last year, Belk did great and has done great for the past two months. Best Buy did awesome – Mt. Juliet had a fantastic Black Friday.”

The new Walmart, Martin said, also experienced a successful shopping day. Martin said that Walmart Manager Bruce Abbott expects another busy several shopping days this weekend.

“Everyone so far has been excited and overly satisfied,” Martin said.

The economic director added that he, Mt. Juliet City Manager Randy Robertson, Public Works Director Marlin Keel and several members of the public works team planned to visit businesses along North Mt. Juliet Road which are in the construction zone on Tuesday. He said that while businesses on the south end of town are prospering he wants to hear out and work with retailers and restaurants toward the north end of Mt. Juliet who may be feeling the effects of the road construction in their cash registers.

“Now’s the time to really step their game up, get hard to work with marketing, think outside the box,” Martin said. “I know that’s easier said than done, but I’m working on a marketing strategy for them, something unique and special for them, to figure out how to get folks’ attention again.”

Martin said he’s looking into a “creative” plan to lure shoppers, diners and patrons to the north side of town, which is more Mom and Pop than big box.

“Because it’s still the same great service they had before (the construction started), still the same great businesses and good places to eat,” Martin said. “And once all this is over with, it’ll be better than ever.”

Martin added that a Nashville-based realty group is working on behalf of local land owner Odell Binkley, who recently inked a deal to buy the parcel of property located at the corner of North Mt. Juliet Road and Division, commonly known as the Old Mt. Juliet Elementary School property. He said the realty group is pitching ideas to businesses and developers and regularly checking in with City officials for statistics, information and alerting them to “who wants what, who’s interested, who’s not and what’s going on.”

Editor’s Note: Tomi L. Wiley is the editor of The Chronicle of Mt. Juliet. She may be contacted at Editor@thechronicleofmtjuliet.com.