The owner of a vintage clothing store called the police on a customer who asked why he was selling a rebel flag vest.
On May 25th, Nathaniel Dennis and his friends visited Beatnix on Halsted, an antique store that sells Halloween and theatre costumes, wigs, pride and transgender flags and makeup. The store is in the Boystown neighborhood of Chicago, home of much of the city’s LGBTQ residents.
Dennis has shopped at the store a lot, but until that day, hadn’t seen a leather vest with a rebel battle flag imprint. “We were looking at graphic T-shirts when my friend Dan Shade called me over to look at the vest,” Dennis, 32, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
The symbol was distasteful to Dennis, a black gay man from Georgia, and he was curious why his favorite boutique frequented by largely marginalized customers would sell it.
Shade and Dennis quietly approached the cashier, who referred them to a manager. “He basically said, ‘Well, we sell vintage items. I don’t tell anyone what to believe’ and sent us to the owner.”
Dennis says owner Keith Bucceri admitted the vest wasn’t appropriate merchandise for the main sales floor and tossed it behind the counter. “But then he brought up Jussie Smollett,” the former Empire actor who claimed to be victimized by a racist assault in January.
“He said, ‘You shouldn’t be making up things that aren’t true like Jussie Smollett,” recalled Dennis. “I told him, ‘Why should we be subjected to symbols like this? As a black person, I am offended.’”
According to Dennis, Bucceri accused the men of dramatics. “He was so combative, saying, ‘Get it through your thick f***ing skull, it’s not racist,’” he says. “He said we were trespassing and to ‘get the f**** out’ or he would call the police.”
Dennis says an employee picked up the phone, so he and his group left. A representative of the Chicago Police Department’s 19th District did not respond to an information request from Yahoo Lifestyle. A police officer told Block Club Chicago that a phone call was made from the store about a man “refusing” to leave but no official complaint exists.
“I didn’t want to be the next unarmed black man shot or killed by the police, so we left,” Dennis tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
However, Shade re-entered the store to take a photo of the discarded vest. “The owner had no problem with me coming back,” Shade, 29, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “He said ‘Your friend wasn’t listening,’ as if we were on the same side.”
Since the friends posted photos of the vest on Facebook, they say former store employees have shared unflattering stories about Bucceri. And the brand’s Facebook page is battling with enraged reviewers.
Bucceri did not respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s phone messages and email.
The store wrote on Facebook, “We do not sell that type of merchandise normally, it was not a shirt, it was a leather vest and wasn't being sold to support any such ideas. It was taken off the floor and the customer didn't want to stop going on about it and when he wouldn't stop…was asked to leave and yes the police were called and when they came they said they could arrest him for criminal trespassing....and I said that would not be necessary....if you choose not to come to Beatnix that is your choice, but based on this sloppy person’s very poor listening skills and insistence on arguing a point unnecessarily since the item in question was taken off the floor..it seems irrational.”
On Wednesday night, Dennis appeared at a community meeting at a bar across the street from Beatnix. “As a black person, you have to pick and choose what situations you want to pursue, because it’s mentally exhausting,” Dennis tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “But I think this is important.”
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