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Why an annual tourist prank could get you lost and cost North Myrtle Beach $30,000

Sign theft in North Myrtle Beach more than a prank

North Myrtle Beach officials are investigating an unusually high rate of street sign theft in the month of June. One hundred forty eight street signs have been stolen that will cost the City of North Myrtle Beach $30,000.
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North Myrtle Beach officials are investigating an unusually high rate of street sign theft in the month of June. One hundred forty eight street signs have been stolen that will cost the City of North Myrtle Beach $30,000.

Drivers navigating their way around North Myrtle Beach this summer might get turned around with officials reporting nearly 150 street signs were stolen this month.

What appears to be a summertime ritual of college and high school students removing street signs from its post as souvenirs, has turned into a problem for the city after 148 street signs went missing in June, specifically in the Cherry Grove area. City spokesperson Pat Dowling said it will cost the city nearly $30,000 to replace the stolen signs.

“Most of the signs were stolen in one weekend, probably one night, so there was more than one person,” Dowling told The Sun News. “This is something more than just your normal frat house theft.”

Several intersections along North Ocean Boulevard, Lake Drive, Nixon Street and Duffy Street in Cherry Grove have only one or none of the street signs to tell drivers where they are, with only one North Ocean Boulevard sign appearing above 50th Avenue North.

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Both the North Ocean Boulevard and the 53rd Avenue sign are missing from a Cherry Grove Street. Over 150 street signs have been stolen from the roads in North Myrtle Beach this June with the Cherry Grove section missing nearly half it’s road signs. City officials believe that high school and college youths steal the signs as souvineers but say that the vandalization will cost the city approximately $20,000 to replace. JASON LEE jlee@thesunnews.com

Any tourist area street signs can expect to experience a certain amount of theft each year, but North Myrtle Beach typically sees street signs disappear each year during the first few weeks of June when there’s a higher volume of teens visiting the area. The signs have a monetary value beyond the souvenir value students may find in them, Dowling said.

He added this years crime spree appears to be a coordinated effort with sign theft in Cherry Grove increasing nearly 65 percent over last year. Dowling said it’s normal for the city to see roughly 60 signs missing per year.

“The ‘traditional’ motive for street sign thefts appears to be for souvenirs to bring home to dorm or home rooms,” Dowling said. “This suggests a much more organized crime and perhaps the motivation(s) went beyond the collection of personal souvenirs.”

Street sign theft tends to taper off in July when the area is flooded with families, Dowling said.

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Over 150 street signs have been stolen from the roads in North Myrtle Beach this June with the Cherry Grove section missing nearly half it’s road signs. City officials believe that high school and college youths steal the signs as souvineers but say that the vandalization will cost the city approximately $20,000 to replace. JASON LEE jlee@thesunnews.com

With police investigating the matter and the city hoping to have all the signs replaced by July, tourists have also noticed the disappearance.

“I used the GPS and was looking for the signs and there were none,” Virginia resident Austin Wilson said. “I noticed they were missing but had no idea why.”

Real estate agent Hank Thomas, who owns Century 21 Thomas Realty in North Myrtle Beach, said he usually receives grievances around this time of the year from renters due to the missing street signs. But this year, Thomas said he’s received more complaints over previous years from people who can’t find their rentals.

“It typically happens every year, but it seems like this year has been worse than previous years,” Thomas said. “It’s just inconvenient to the tourists.”

North Carolina resident Kendra Vasquez agreed, adding the summertime theft is disruptive to the residents and vacationers.

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Over 150 street signs have been stolen from the roads in North Myrtle Beach this June with the Cherry Grove section missing nearly half it’s road signs. City officials believe that high school and college youths steal the signs as souvineers but say that the vandalization will cost the city approximately $20,000 to replace. JASON LEE jlee@thesunnews.com

“Most people want to enjoy the beach,” said North Carolina resident Tony Mendoza. “I wouldn’t want a street sign.”

When police complete their investigation, Dowling said violators will be charged and face a heavy fine. He said the department has some leads but believes the perpetrators are using power tools that can cut through the aluminum signs very quickly.

“They’re obviously doing this in the dark at night, stealthily,” Dowling said. “When you take that many signs, you sort of demolish all of those directional opportunities that visitors have.”

Anna Young is the Coastal Cities reporter for The Sun News covering anything and everything that happens locally. Young, an award-winning journalist who got her start reporting local news in New York, is dedicated to upholding the values of journalism by listening, learning, seeking out the truth and reporting it accurately. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from SUNY Purchase College.
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