Word definitely gets around these days. I was intrigued as I followed an interesting story that came up on the local Craigslist Rants & Raves Web site. When people aren’t bickering and racial profiling, sometimes some interesting conversation comes up.

It all started when one poster pasted a forward he/she had received, on to the board:

“Just passing this info on to others.

I had an interesting situation with the Factory Card Outlet over the weekend that I wanted to share with others. I really bothered me and if you feel the same way, I hope you will pass this story along. My daughter is on the Rock Bridge softball team, and they try to do some community service work when possible. Today they are going to the VA Hospital for a belated Valentine’s Day visit. The coach asked that they each bring as many valentine cards as possible. This had the potential to be a bit expensive, since you can’t really take a box of 40 Power Ranger cards. . . so on Saturday, February 16, Abby and I went out to look for cards at the Factory Card Outlet over by Sam’s Club. I thought I might be able to buy several at a reasonable price. There was no sign indicating any discount on the Valentine card display, so I asked a clerk if they were on sale. She said they weren’t, so I explained I was buying cards to take to the VA and asked if they would make me a deal if I bought a large number. She sent me to talk to the manager. The manager laughed and told me they wouldn’t discount them. As I was talking to him at the counter, another clerk was systematically busting already-blown-up Valentine balloons with scissors and throwing them away. So I asked if they would consider donating these balloons to the veterans instead of throwing them away. He said, “No, we have to destroy them.” I told him that didn’t make any sense to me, since they were already blown up and they obviously weren’t going to sell them and were throwing them away. Wouldn’t it be nice to donate them to a worthy cause? He again said no, they had to destroy them. He made some comments about bar coding, and anything leaving the store had to be bar coded out, and it was easier to bar code things that were flat and so on. Eventually he told me I could call back later and talk to the owner. So, of course, I did. The owner was obviously primed for my call. He immediately informed me that he would much rather destroy the balloons than give them away. I pointed out what a worthy cause giving them to the veterans who were in the hospital would be, but he said it didn’t matter, he would be destroying the balloons anyway. He didn’t make donations to anyone because if he gave these away, he would have people lined up outside the door the next day looking for donations and would “go broke.” I tried to point out to him that I wasn’t asking for him to take something viable off of his shelf and give it to me for the benefit of the softball team — I didn’t ask him to blow up 15 balloons and give them to me — but he didn’t want to hear about it. (Really, I am not making this up — I know this sounds unbelievable.) In the end, this person’s attitude about giving back to our community and certainly to our veterans made my skin crawl and I decided I wouldn’t ever set foot in that business again. It made me sad to think that they hadn’t thought about taking these balloons (and there were probably 30 to 40 of them) somewhere like a nursing home or to Rainbow House themselves in the first place. I feel strongly enough about this to want to tell everyone I know. Please feel free to share this with anyone who you think might be interested and want to spend their money with a business that demonstrates a stronger commitment to our community.”

Apparently this story had been making the rounds in Columbia by email. People were calling a boycott on the store and there was a mostly general consensus that the store had been wrong in its actions, one way or another. What’s a journalist to do? A juicy story to be sure, but how to track down the original source?

Many assumed the original Craigslist poster was the writer of the email. However, they reposted saying that they had simply copy and pasted that message from their email and did not know the original source. The Business Editor of the Columbia Tribune posted to the board looking for the contact information from the originator. I’m glad to see I’m not the only journalist in town using these outlets.

However, now I was starting to question how valid the post was. I receive a few forwards a month, typically from one friend. They’re usually outlandish stories that upon further inspection at Snopes end up being either entirely false or a clever addition to a much smaller story.

Finally, a story appeared in the Missourian that validated the tale: http://www.columbiamissourian.com/stories/2008/02/21/online-community-outcry-causes-company-apologize/

Somehow these reporters had traced the story back to a Nancy Holman who had sent the original email.

“Holman sent out the message, and within days, hundreds of local residents had received it. Soon, some who received the e-mail were filing online missives of their own encouraging consumers to boycott the company.

The e-mail eventually made its way to Gary Rada, president of the party supply chain that has nearly 200 locations throughout the country.”

The articles goes on to say that Rada contacted Mrs. Holman and issued an apology as well as stating that the company plans to possibly make a donation to the VA Hospital and give them discount cards for the future. It’s often joked that the Internet is serious business but for Mr. Rada it clearly was. One email has the potential to bring a company to the ground.

One thing that bothered me however was this:

“Holman’s husband, Kevin, said that he and his wife had received numerous calls from members of the community voicing their support. Nancy Holman declined to comment.”

She declines to comment? This woman who had the guts to share her story with all of Columbia from behind her computer screen, (an email, which could very well have closed down the local Factory Card Outlet) cannot even comment to the newspaper about her actions?

Shame on you, Mrs. Holman.

The story feels really incomplete without her side.

However, there is quite the lesson here that word gets around a lot easier than it used to. The Internet certainly has changed the consumer environment. Even I look up businesses from time to time and I use the Myspace Professor grader to see what people say about a professor before joining a class.

For further reading: http://www.columbiamissourian.com/stories/2008/03/03/internet-gives-consumers-more-voice-and-options/

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