Thursday, September 13, 2007

Urban legend destroys local business

From the local news site

TREMONT, SCHUYLKILL COUNTY -- A grocery store owner in the borough says a racist e-mail spreading on the internet is hurting his business so bad he'll have to close shop.

Patriotic colors adorn the outside of the Tremont Supermarket but it may not be enough to convince folks in town to shop here. An email claims the store owner refused to serve a customer wearing military uniform. Store owner Sam Singh says “the email was going house to house. It spread all over to Fort Indiantown Gap to Tamaqua. It's still spreading. It’s still going around."

The rumor also claims Singh, who opened this business in February, told the customer she killed his people. It asks readers not to shop there. And that he return to play in the sand where our troops may get lucky. Sam says he's never refused to serve anyone. "It has nothing to do with me. I'm from India and I come here to this country with my dreams to work hard . You can ask anybody if they've ever had a problem with me." Singh says sales have dropped 65% since the email came out. He's dropped prices and hasn't ordered anything new.

Some customers, like Dan Poletti remain loyal. Poletti says “I hope something can be done. Because the man put all his life savings into the place and he lost it like that." Customer Ron Tobias says "I think the person should go to jail for a couple years because they're slandering him and it’s all untrue."

Sam is speaking out because he doesn't want to take the blame for something that's not true. He says he's planning to leave town to start a business in another state. Police say the alleged victim, Dawn, never complained to police until they tracked her down while investigating the email. The police chief tells WBRE News he's looking into the case to determine whether Sam or Dawn will face charges.
I thought this story sounded familiar. Actually, I knew I had read it somewhere before. And that "somewhere" was, the Urban Legends Reference Pages. See this entry for a thorough debunking of this sort of attack.
The years since the September 11 attacks have brought a panoply of rumors about business owners and employees who have supposedly openly celebrated terrorist attacks on America and/or refused to do business with U.S. servicemen...

...The August 2007 e-mail reproduced above (on the site) fits this pattern of rumors, telling the tale of two U.S. servicemen reportedly denied service by the owner of a Dunkin' Donuts franchise in Crown Point, Indiana who rudely told them "you are killing my countrymen and I will not serve you."
So is this just a local version of a racist attack using a stock urban legend? Yes. Probably. There's always a chance that the car driving toward you at night without headlights might be a gang member undergoing an initiation, and he (or she) will chase you down and kill you (and subsequently earn membership in the gang) if you flash you flash your lights...but it's probably just someone who forgot to turn on their headlights. In all likelihood this is another case of ignorance, stupidity, and gullibility dictating how people behave. Unfortunately, this time the result is not just a bunch of people praying to a random reflection on a garage door. This time the result has been a local convenience store going out of business.

More on this story:
Internet rumor harms Tremont grocery, 9/12/2007, The (Schuykill County) Republican & Herald
E-mail could lead to charges, 9/13/2007, The (Schuykill County) Republican & Herald
(This second story goes well beyond what is discussed in the story quoted above.)

UPDATE, 7/27/2011: Two codas:

This site has preserved a story from October 12, 2007:

A Tremont woman, who was accused of spreading rumors against her former employer, had her case heard yesterday, and some of the charges were dropped. The Republican and Herald reports that Amber Wolfgang originally faced charges of ethnic intimidation, making false reports to law enforcement and disorderly conduct, among others. She was accused of perpetuating a rumour about her former boss, Sam Singh, who owned Tremont Super Market. The rumour said that Singh told a person wearing a military uniform to leave his store.

Court documents said her employment was terminated due to poor performance. Singh failed to show up for the hearing, prompting District Judge Carol Pankake to dismiss all of the charges, with the exception of filing false reports to law enforcement, which she’ll face in county court.

Singh, who is a native of India, said that the spread of the rumour caused his business to plummet. The store closed last month. Wolfgang remains free on bail.

So, hooray. Justice was not served. I couldn't find any follow-up regarding Amber Wolfgang of Tremont, but I did find...this, posted by a person with that same name and that same location, on a site called Complaints Board:

family dollar store number 7319 Complaints - went to store manager about assoc.

went to the manager and complain that the one assoc. says o my god is she comes and sits the money on the counter instead of puttin in my hand, several times i go in there she throws an attitude towards me and roll her eyes i love that store but i wnt go in it anymore unless i have to if my husband is at work i will go in but other than that i wnt go in and then i go to the manager and tell her and she wants to blame someone else for these actions and its not her well she haned her keys in today and quit well i want to tell u somethin u need a new store manager as well as new assoc. cause plain and simple they r all snobs and have attitudes what store customers need that.use r gonna all miss the one girl that did her job rite and didnt go outside and take smoke breaks now come on as a customer who wants to see the worker smoke on family dollars time not me smoke breaks should be when u go on break not go out and smoke after ur done waitin on someone and then keep peakin in the store to see if anyone is at the register to stop smokin to go wait on them bs do it on there own time get real people or close the stor down cause u r losing customers w the one customer quiting .

So, there's a little insight into this case. I hope Sam Singh was able to set up a successful business somewhere else.


dee said...

Years ago the nuns told a story about a woman who went to the priest to confess that she had gossiped about someone and ruined their reputation. The priest took her up to the bell tower and ripped open a feather pillow, and told her for her penance she would have to pick up all the feathers that had flown out on the breeze. When she told him that would be impossible, he told her it would be easier than finding all the people who had passed on her malicious gossip.

Imagine if the nuns had known about email. I can't count the number of "Reply All" I've sent back after checking out something on If everyone took that one, simple step, our inboxes wouldn't be loaded with these awful rumors and lies. I really feel for this guy.

Philip. said...

What a sad tale!

hedera said...

Yeah, I never cease to be amazed at the ease with which people will believe slander, never bothering to ask themselves, is there something funny about this?? I have Snopes bookmarked, and regularly send the links to my cousin in Missouri, who seems unable to resist the most blatant Internet fakery...