Newsletters

Get Well+Being delivered to your inbox every Monday Morning.

Georgetown Boutiques Hit by Irish Travelers?
According to some store owners, a group of women possibly belonging to an Irish Traveler tribe have wreaked havoc on their businesses. By Carol Ross Joynt
Comments () | Published December 8, 2011
Ella-Rue in Georgetown. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt

Georgetown boutique owner Krista Johnson says the problem started about eight months ago. It was an otherwise normal day at Ella-Rue, her shop just off Wisconsin Avenue. Suddenly, the small, cluttered clothing and accessories store became overwhelmed by a group of women, half a dozen of them, either pregnant or with little children, all speaking in a thick accent she discerned as Irish. They were so intense they scared her, especially when they began to tear through her clothing racks. Since that day, according to Johnson, the women—whom she calls “Irish gypsies”—have returned to her store on a somewhat regular basis.

“They are young girls, anywhere from six to seven of them, decked out in designer wear, all with long hair,” Johnson says. “They generally have one older woman with them. They make a mess. They throw clothing on the floor, put on sizes that are too small, and tear the clothing.” The whole purpose is to steal, she says, and she has called the police when they show up, but “they flee before the police arrive.” Johnson admits she’s never filed an official complaint, and the Metropolitan Police Department confirmed there are no incident reports regarding the matter. Without incident reports, the police don’t have the group on their radar.

While Johnson’s encounters are compelling, they are not unique. The Betsy Johnson and Second Hand Rose stores, both also on Wisconsin Avenue, have mentioned similar episodes. The group of “shoppers” appear to favor high-end clothing stores, and they seem to like to make repeat visits to the same stores. A random check of several other Georgetown boutiques (Urban Chic, Sassanova, Wink, and Second Time Around) found no other incidents.

Mo Aliyan, a manager at Betsy Johnson, says the hits by the Irish groups started “in the past four or five months.” He says they come often, “maybe once a week, a group as large as seven, and they range in age from 9 years old to 60 years old. They are either pregnant or have children with them.” Like Johnson, he describes them as having long hair and Irish accents, and adds, “You would notice them a mile away from the way they dress.”

It is possible the women are Irish Travelers or, in slang, “Irish gypsies,” a tribe notorious across the US and the UK for sometimes pulling retail and home repair scams. There is even a TLC reality show, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, that chronicles a band of British Travelers. But Johnson doesn’t find them entertaining.

Once when the group of women came to her store, she asked where they live. They told her their home was in Sterling, Virginia, “and they all say they are living with their uncle, but most of them have babies or are pregnant. The children are very neglected. Their diapers are dirty.”

Tribes of Irish Travelers have been in the US for more than 150 years, supposedly having fled Ireland to escape the potato famine. According to Time magazine, they “speak a Gaelic-English dialect called ‘cant.’ (‘Misli shayjo!’ means, ‘Go away, the police are here!’)”

Johnson says her rage toward them is not because of who they are but what they do. Lately she has taken to physically forcing them out of her store. She can do that because she’s an independent boutique with no corporate policy that aims to accommodate all customers.

Betsey Johnson, on the other hand, does have such a policy. “We don’t kick them out because we are a corporation,” says Aliyan of the store, which also keeps a security guard on the premises. Nonetheless, he feels the women are a serious problem and need to be watched closely. “They come in with tags from other stores and they’ll switch tags. They know how to take off censors. We’ve found missing jewelry.” He calls them “professional criminals,” but says that so far, “none of the ready-to-wear has gone missing,” perhaps because store staffers are usually able to catch them before that happens. “We’ve never had to call the police because we have a security guard. They know not to mess with us,” he says.

Sometimes they do shop, paying with cash or credit cards. What’s always the same is that they arrive as a posse, loud and chaotic. “The first time they came, in I was so scared because there are so many of them,” Krista Johnson recalls. “They scream at you, and the babies scream.”

Lynn Boynton, who owns Second Hand Rose, says her first encounter with them happened in the spring, and while she didn’t find it funny then, she’s able to laugh about it now. She says they arrived “like a storm—pretty, blond, big-busted, and they all have hundred-dollar bills. They spend.” As Johnson and Aliyan reported, they had little children with them, and baby carriages. After they departed, Boynton noticed a large Burberry bag was missing. One of them had called earlier to ask for directions, and Boynton had her phone number on Caller ID. She called a number, which had a 703 area code, and told the woman who answered that she had them on camera and if the bag wasn’t returned in four hours, she was calling the police. “Someone called back and said she found the bag in a baby carriage, and she paid for it by credit card.”

Still, Boynton says she’s willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. “I know some people don’t want them in their stores, and if they hadn’t paid for the Burberry bag, I might feel differently. . . . [But] I’m not convinced they are thieves.”

Categories:

Local News
Subscribe to Washingtonian

Discuss this story

Feel free to leave a comment or ask a question. The Washingtonian reserves the right to remove or edit content once posted.
  • Dovie Wilkinson-Mann

    All these shop owners should reevaluate the words they spew before painting a prejudiced picture of the businesses they represent.. How are you just going to assume that the kids are neglected? Or that the merchandise was stolen by these supposed travellers? YOU ARE IN DC, which happens to have one of the five highest crime rates in the country. You can't possibly expect anybody to believe that this is such a shock, over-priced merchandise stolen from a pseudo-swank ho-tique in DC. Oh lord, call the secretary of Defense!

  • Ugg2399

    Well to tell u the truth there is black white and all other races that do crime I ame a Irish traveler and I don't steel so why paint every body with the same brush every body is different I was at the lady's store and she put me out she said she was going to call the police I told her to call them because I was a Irish traveler she though I was going to steel so yes I call her racist because I don't stel.

  • jinjinj

    ZBY-

    Christmas is coming!coach outlet is also coming this world now!Coach bags,most famous brand in usa,also the world,why are coach spread so wide,that is because cheap with fashion,the reason why is so cheap because coach always have coach outlet online,we are the online store of coach bags,and they take their product all is from coach factory outlet,no tax no room rent is the advance of coach outlet online store,so come and shopping us now,beautiful bag are waitting for you.

    Are you ready to send what gift in this Christmas?Maybe we can give you some advice.louis vuitton outlet are amazing shopping site in this world,because through it,you can bought the louis vuitton bags in an incredible price,maybe a new way to get Louis Vuitton Handbag,that is louis vuitton online store,as I understand they take the bag from Louis vuitton factory,no tax,no house rent,no compete,these make the price lower then louis vuitton shop,so why not shop the louis vuitton online,amazing Louis Vuitton handbag are belong to you.

    If you want to buy coach for a christmas gift,you can go to our store online.coach outlet is cheapest mall to bought coach bags.as a famous brand in the world,have discount is a incredible thing.Find online store is a new way to get Coach Bags,coach outlet online obviously is a perfect way to get it,in this winter are you really ready to be a fashion women,usa coach outlet will help you,so join us now!coach outlet store online wating for you comeing!

    If you are worried for Christmas gift,hermes bags may be a good choice,as the world’s most expensive brand,if you have one, that must stand that you are a good station person in your country, Hermes is famous of it’s hermes handbags,as the hermes handbag’s high qulity and best design, maybe the price is the best in the world.Two series of hermes is popular,that is hermes kelly bags,and hermes birkin bags,this two series make Hermes more popular, so visit our site to get your love.

    A lot of people want to get a beautiful Coach Bag in christmas.Where can we buy coach bags? A lot of people choose to go to coach outlet store online.All products what sale in coach outlet online are top quality and low price.We promise you to recieve your buy about 5~7days. usa coach outlet directly sell for customers.Do you want to free to buy Coach Bags in your home?Please click coach outlet.

    belstaff jackets is the most popular winter brand in the world,if you don't know,that means you out.belstaff coat is famous of its high-level material and fahisonable design,so that's why so many people choose Belstaff to though the cold winter.Nowaday surffing the internet is the lifestyle of most people,but have you bought things on the internet,I introduce you to try to buy things in the internet,because you can buy belstaff sale on the internet,that way you can get big discount than in reality world,in the brand belstaff trialmaster series is the hottest,this series suit for all kinds of people,whatever you like,whatever you are,you suit it.

    Why buy coach bags from us? Because we have all kinds of Coach products,and these products are high quality and low price.coach factory provide the most perfect service, your order will arrive about 5~7days.Free shipping any order of $99+.Go shopping in people's eyes is women's patent as if .Now a new choice for women is going to coach factory online.If you want to buy Coach Poppy Bag or Coach Wallet, but don't want to go out, coach factory outlet must be your best choice.Are you still hesitate? To click on your mouse to choose your like.

    What should you send gift in christmas? hermes handbags is waiting for you.Maybe Hermes Handbags is very expensive,but you will be interisted in our replica hermes handbags,we have hermes birkin bags,Hermes Kelly Bags and so on,all of them is quality assured and beautiful,so buy hermes bags on our site,amazing surprise is waiting for you.

    On the eve of Christmas comes, coach factory outlet also provide to the most preferential price at this time. coach outlet olinehave many beautiful products, there must be your like.Such Coach bags,Coach sunglass,Coach wallet and so on.Free shipping for any order of $99+.our store will give you a nice present.coach outlet must be Shopping paradise what you want to go.

    What should we buy winter clothes?I think a moncler jackets is necessaery,online moncler is a good way to get a perfect Moncler.Moncleris famous of it amazing qulity and it's consummate manual work,when you ware it,you will feel warm,whatere how cold the winter is,Moncler can take care of your body.Our online store afford latest moncler coat,so in the cold winter you can also fashion and attractive,so visit our moncler online shop,it will take you a warm winter.


  • "Travelers," pffft -- they're simply organized crime.

  • InfoSinner Finer

    How is it they discerned that these ladies were Travellers ? There have been I.T.'s here since the 1840's...And these women had "Irish accents "...Anybody else thinking insurance fraud...

blog comments powered by Disqus

Posted at 12:10 PM/ET, 12/08/2011 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Washingtonian.com Blogs