By Steven Graves

CHICAGO (CBS)– Shoppers returned to stores this Black Friday, but criminals did too.

As CBS 2’s Steven Graves reported, burglars targeted a trio of shops in a crime spree in Wicker Park early Friday morning. And an industry expert said such crimes are becoming more frequent – and thefts now tracking to locally-owned shops.

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It was around 1:40 a.m. when thieves hit a Foot Locker at 1241 N. Milwaukee Ave., just northwest of the intersection with Division Street. A gate was broken, a window was shattered, and items were taken.

Minutes later at 2 a.m., the North Face store at 1629 N. Damen Ave. was hit A worker said at least two people pried a door open and stole numerous coats.

And then at 2:40, a nearby Boost Mobile store at 2642 W. Division St. in Humboldt Park also had its door broken into. Chicago police said multiple electronics were stolen.

“It seems to be happening with more frequency,” said Illinois retail industry expert Robb Karr.

Karr, president and chief executive officer of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said it is a problem beyond the holidays.

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“We have clearly seen a trend more year-round,” he said, “and it’s not just Chicago, but Chicago is clearly one of the national epicenters.”

And it is also not just at those high-end stores with the stunning images of fast, brazen thefts.

“It’s happening at mom-and-pop stores,” Karr said. “It puts retailers and customers in harm’s way.”

Karr said shops are already investing in a lot of security. And while he didn’t give specific solutions, he hopes there are more community efforts in conjunction with police and legislators to help stop such crimes.

On Friday, two of the three recently hit stores were back up and running. Black Friday shoppers were not deterred – specifically with local shops in mind.

“If anything, I want to support them more now – just to prove that they’re really important in the neighborhood,” one shopper said.

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Chicago Police do not know if these recent burglaries are connected. Meanwhile, Karr says crime is becoming an increasingly popular reason as to why shop owners are abandoning storefronts altogether.