KEARNEYSVILLE — Abe Crouse said he must know the person who robbed his custom-made furniture shop three weeks ago.
During the late evening of July 31 or early morning of Aug. 1, a group of robbers hauled away more than 16 pieces of custom-made furniture out of the Lawrence Crouse Workshop showroom in Kearneysville. More than $20,000 worth of meticulously handcrafted pieces disappeared overnight, he said.
It has to be someone who knows firsthand about his shop, Crouse said. The person must have been there before, likely someone he considers a friend or business associate.
“It’s somebody that I have shaken their hand—you know, talked to them, looked them in the eye,” he said.
The robbers knew enough to steal the most valuable furniture, Crouse said. That included 18th-century reproduction chairs and tables as well as a made-to-order kitchen counter and a matching set of bar stools that had just been completed.
Several of the pieces that were stolen were made from tiger maple, a rare and expensive wood. A few were large enough to require at least three people to carry away.
“It’s just weird to know that they’re gone,” he said. “It’s just vanished.”
Crouse says the robbery has discouraged him enough that he has considered closing the business, which was begun by his father in 1972. He said he never factored the financial loss from a robbery into his calculations.
“It’s just enough to really make you want to quit,” he said. “Knocks the wind out of you, almost to say.”
Crouse, 34, grew up working at the furniture shop and learned how to run the business from his now semi-retired father. He bought the shop, which employs four other workers, about eight years ago, just before he got married.
He said the business operates on tight margins and plenty of uncertainty, typical of a small operation.
A single handmade reproduction Windsor desk-chair he builds can take 30 hours to complete.
“Every piece is fitted just perfectly for where it’s going to go,” he said, “And from start to finish it’s just meticulously correct. I love doing something with my hands. I love the aspect of when it’s all done that somebody else gets to appreciate it.”
Many of the pieces that were stolen were inventory pieces built to tide the shop over slow months, Crouse said. “We just barely week after week tread water to pay our help and to keep the electricity on and to pay our mortgage.”
Since the robbery, Crouse said he has been losing sleep thinking about what happened and who must have done it. He’s been reviewing clues and scenarios over and over in his mind.
“I’m getting pretty Sherlock Holmes-y on everybody now,” he said. “I’m just the most paranoid person you can probably come across right now.”
Crouse told police where he thinks fingerprints might be found for some of the robbers.
Only open to customers by appointment, Crouse’s showroom is on a secluded lot off Leetown Road, down a narrow, shady lane. There’s only a one-way access through a single gate.
It’s not a location anyone would randomly come across, Crouse said.
A cottage near the showroom had been rented continuously for years but happened to be empty during the robbery. Another house beside the lane that leads to the showroom was also empty at the time.
The truck that was used to haul away the furniture must have been parked where it was hidden from another occupied house, Crouse said. He found a chock of wood that the robbers left behind that must have been placed behind a wheel to prevent the truck or trailer from moving.
Crouse owns a panel truck to transport furniture to trade shows and promotional events. He said he would have had a difficult time packing all of the furniture that was stolen in a similar-sized truck.
“For the amount of volume that was taken out of here, it took some time,” he said.
Crouse’s showroom was secured with deadbolt locks. It has no security cameras or alarms.
Crouse said the robbers must have been confident and comfortable doing what they did. And his mind keeps returning to the probability that someone he knows just robbed him.
“It’s just disheartening as can be,” he said. “I was always proud of myself that I don’t have enemies out there. … Makes me realize that, hey, I do have an enemy out there now.”