By Peggy Taylor
I’d had enough of crime on the Upper West Side. Enough of the muggings, the stabbings, the robberies of 90-year-olds, the terrorizing of street vendors, the McDonald’s shootouts, the street fights, the park hold-ups, the thefts of businesses large and small.
So, last week, I hopped on the crosstown M72 to escape to the swanky Upper East Side, which I was sure would be safer. I’d seek refuge in my favorite French boulangerie/patisserie/tea room/ice cream parlor, Ladurée, on Madison Avenue, where I would indulge in a treat hard to find in most restaurants—coffee ice cream.
There I would settle into a miniature Marie-Antoinette boudoir, adorned with silk draperies, swag-framed mirrors, and a velvet banquette facing a window display of beribboned gift boxes and made-to-order macaron trees, priced from $95 to $545.
Now, I had read in the New York Post that last April, Madison’s high-end clothing stores had been hit by an illegal theft ring so massive that they were now locking their doors and opening only by appointment. But the authorities had since indicted the ringleader and forty-one accomplices, so shop owners were feeling less fearful. Anyway, those were high-end apparel boutiques; surely, one was safe in an ice cream parlor.
How wrong I was.
I had been going to Ladurée since 2017, and pre-pandemic, indulging in their over-the-top Café Liégeois—three scoops of coffee ice cream drowned in espresso and crowned with whipped cream and caramelized almonds.
Now, post-pandemic and tightening my belt, I ordered only one scoop sans whipped cream and almonds, but still stylishly served in a bulbous silver bowl, with a tapered silver spoon and silver pitcher of espresso on the side.
The staff know me and my routine. I place my credit card and a $2 cash tip on my small, marble-topped table, and they pick them up whenever they get a breather from the macaron lovers crowding the store. But on Monday, May 23rd, forty-five minutes before closing, a tall woman in her forties, wearing a black-and-white headwrap, fitted jeans and a long, black sweater entered the boudoir, spotted the card and the cash, and before I could say, “Let them eat cake,” reached out to grab both.
Luckily, my 81-year-old reflexes were faster than her forty-year-old arm, and as I shouted, “No you don’t!” I grabbed the card and cash and inserted them back into my wallet. She turned away nonchalantly and let out a strange cackle, which the manager, viewing her later on the shop’s video tape, described as from “someone on drugs and crazy.”
Angry, incredulous, scared, and frozen, all I could do was say to a neighbor sitting at the other end of the banquette, “Did you see that?” “Yes,” she said, as shocked as I, especially when we realized that the would-be thief had not dashed out of the shop as a normal thief would, but rather stood calmly at the display counter as if pondering which flavor of macarons to buy (raspberry ginger, cherry blossom tea, or black currant violet.)
I’m still trying to understand why I didn’t shout to the entire shop, “That woman tried to steal my credit card!” Was it paralysis? Fear? Embarrassment at almost having been had? She had failed to get the card, so I had no proof that she had tried. Would the other customers have looked kindly on me as I interrupted their selection of quiches and croissants, as well as macarons.
The assistant manager had momentarily left the shop; one of the two servers had gone downstairs, and the other, a woman in her twenties, was helping customers. Should I have pitted her against a thief who could possibly have been packing a gun or knife? Someone who might have jumped over the display counter and attacked her just as a disgruntled MOMA member jumped over the Museum’s desk and stabbed two receptionists three months ago.
When the assistant manager returned, I recounted the saga, to which he replied, “There’s a lot of stuff happening on Madison Avenue today. But we have her on tape,” he reassured me, pointing to a security camera perched near the display window above the silk draperies.
After closing, the manager replayed the tape and found the section featuring me and the thwarted thief. He emailed it to me but asked that I keep it to myself. The shop didn’t file a police report, and neither did I. “We always advise people to file a police report, even days after the incident. You both can still do so,” said Matthew Bauer, president of the Madison Avenue BID, who I informed. But with crime so pervasive, I felt, and still feel, that it would be futile. The jails are already overcrowded; even if she were caught, she would probably be back out on the street the same day.
Bauer was shocked that the woman had tried to steal the card and money right from under me. “We have cases of purse snatchings in restaurants when patrons leave their belongings unattended, and we always encourage them to secure their bags, but this is the first time I’ve heard of an attempted theft at Ladurée.”
But Ladurée’s manager confirmed that robberies there are on the rise: “They take anything that’s outside the display case— jars of jam, bags of marshmallows, and the scented candles located right next to the cash register!” The assistant manager pointed to the statuette of a naked, Roman-looking boy reading a book next to a cup of coffee stirrers. “One day a guy tried to steal him, but I caught him before he succeeded,” he said.
Then I remembered that three years ago, all of Ladurée’s sidewalk chairs were stolen. Every night, they now chain the chairs to the sidewalk tables.
So, all the tensions and anxiety of the Upper West Side did not dissipate when I sought solace on the Upper East Side. After speaking with friends about rising crime in their neighborhoods, I have concluded that post-pandemic crime, both petty and serious, is citywide.