a tale of two letters

I am not a letter-writer. I have a couple friends who are. However – maybe I’m starting to become one. The first letter here – a Thank You So Much – was written to the store in question and Cc’d to the local paper (I don’t think it was ever printed, though). My complaint letter is longer, but the story really takes a setup.

Letter 1
August 30, 2005
Editor, Port Townsend Leader:

I am writing to publicly thank the staff and clientele of Store A for assistance to my family. Today while picking out vegetables and with my back turned, the shopping cart holding my two young children fell over in a spectacular display of terrified wails and flying cherry tomatoes. Seconds after the incident I was surrounded by staff and customers consoling my children, cleaning the fallen groceries, offering water, and standing by to help in any way they could. My children were unhurt but spent several seconds crying in their mother’s arms, so I had no real opportunity to thank all who came to our aid. I deeply appreciate the community’s concern and assistance in a time of vulnerability.

Kelly Hogaboom

Letter 2
November 15, 2005
General Manager, Store B:

I am writing in regards to an incident yesterday morning involving my family at your Port Townsend store. Yesterday while shopping in the fabric department with my two young children, my 19-month old son became suddenly ill and without warning vomited all over himself, the floor, and me. I was horrified and dismayed, but, fortunately, very close to the bathroom.

With apologies to the fabric store clerk and a nearby customer, I hurried into the bathroom to triage the mess. There I spent a good ten minutes cleaning up myself, my crying son, and verbally distracting my three-year-old daughter as I did so. My son’s clothes and mine were soaked. I emerged from the bathroom with a bag of soiled clothing, a naked child, my shopping parcel, and a three-year-old in tow. At this point I signaled to the fabric store clerk, once again apologizing for the mess. She said, and I quote, “”Are you going to clean that up? I can’t really do that” as she folded fabric at the cutting table. The entire mess lay as it had when I entered the bathroom.

I called attention to the fact that I had a sick (and naked) child as well as a toddler sibling in my care. She did not apologize or amend her statement. I went out to the parking lot, put my children in my car, asked an acquaintance to watch the vehicle, and went inside to clean up. Only after I approached the mess with a bucket, mop, garbage pail, and paper towels (retrieved from the restroom) did this employee tell me I didn’t have to clean the mess, that she would get someone else. Nevertheless, I cleaned up the mess entirely since I was already there and, still, no one else was doing it. In fact, both the fabric store worker and another employee watched, at one point suggesting disinfectant for the water I was using and pointing out a spot I missed, but neither making a move to help. When I was finished I put away the cleaning supplies and left. I did not receive further comment or apology from the clerk who seemed so callous to my situation.

I should add that the fellow customer nearby did follow me into the restroom, carrying my parcel and offering help. At no point did any employee of Store B extend a similar courtesy.

I question whether Store B’s official policy is to hold customers personally responsible to clean any accident they may cause. But more than that, the lack of compassion, friendliness, and action from the fabric clerk especially was nothing short of astounding. I was in the bathroom for a good ten minutes – ten minutes your clerk did not summon anyone to clean bodily fluids off the public store floor. This seems at the very least very unsafe for other customers.

I have supported Store B with my business for the six years I have lived in this town. I would like to know what kind of business policies I should relay to my local friends with young families.

Thank you for your time,

Kelly Hogaboom

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