Williamsburg Boutique Amarcord Accused Of Racially Profiling Customers

Dashed Arrow via Yelp

A Brooklyn attorney claims she was racially profiled and wrongly accused of shoplifting while trying on clothes with her teenage daughter in a Williamsburg boutique last Friday, May 4th. Nancy Bedard, who is black, and her 19-year-old daughter say they were shopping in the vintage store Amarcord on Bedford Avenue around 7 p.m. when a white employee confronted them. The dispute that ensued eventually led to Bedard and her daughter in handcuffs, though no merchandise was found to have been stolen.

Bedard declined to speak with Gothamist, but she is expected to attend a protest outside Amarcord tonight at 6 p.m. (UPDATE: Read Gothamist's coverage of the demonstration here.) Her husband Philip Sturges, also an attorney, posted this message on Facebook immediately following the incident:

Today a white female employee of Amarcord Vintage Fashion falsely accused my black wife, who is an attorney, of shoplifting, had the police chase her and our teenage daughter down in a cop car and violently handcuff both of them before searching her bag and determining she was innocent. This was pure RACIAL PROFILING by the Amarcord employee. BOYCOTT!!!!!

"They were falsely accused of shoplifting with no factual basis for that claim to have been made," says Sturges, who was not present at the time of the incident. "She tried to respond to the store employee who made the accusation and pointed out that all items had been returned. The store employee refused to accept that, was changing her story, claiming there was an additional item that didn't exist."

Sturges says that after his wife and daughter left Amarcord, the employee followed them out of the store, "harassing them." According to Sturges, the employee "made statements to the effect of 'we knew when you walked in you weren't going to buy anything.'"

As Bedard and her daughter walked to their car, Sturges said three police cars pulled up with one of the store's employees inside, ostensibly for the purpose of identifying them.

"The officers did not ask either [Bedard] or our daughter any questions—they just immediately handcuffed them. They didn't say anything, they obviously took whatever this employee said at face value. They didn't bother getting my wife's side of the story, which my wife would have been happy to tell them. There was no truth to the allegation. There was nothing in her bag. They didn't even look in her bag."

Bedard and her daughter's arms were "abraded and swollen" from the tightness of the handcuffs, according to Sturges, who says, "My wife's arm looked really bad." Sturges says Bedard and his daughter were eventually released, after Bedard showed police that no merchandise was in their possession. Sturges says they were then taken to Woodhull Medical and treated for swelling and abrasions on their arms.

"It was a completely humiliating and dangerous experience," Sturges says. "They had absolutely no basis to make the accusation of shoplifting."

Amarcord's owners, Patti Bordoni and Marco Liotta, declined to comment, but issued a statement on their website today accusing Bedard and Sturges of defaming the boutique. They say they tried to apologize to the couple, but have been unable to reach them.

"On May 4, a misunderstanding ensued inside our store which quickly escalated," the statement says. "One of our employees politely approached two patrons to clarify a situation, which was immediately countered with the accusation that our intentions were racially motivated. Shocked, our employee pursued them outside in an attempt to sort things out. At this point, one of the patrons threatened our employee’s safety, humiliated her and berated her race, class, and physical appearance."

Daniel Kron, an attorney representing Amarcord, emphatically denies that there was anything "discriminatory" in how Bedard and her daughter were approached by the employee. "The circumstances are not what they were portrayed," Kron says. "At no time did anyone at Amarcord say that anyone was shoplifting. All that was asked was that they examine clothing that was taken out of the fitting room. The customer in question immediately played the race card, saying, 'Oh it's because I'm black, isn't it?' And on and on and on."

Kron notes that Amarcord has been in business for almost twenty years, and says "this is the very first time something like this has ever transpired. Clearly there is no pattern of anything like this happening. Nothing racially motivated happened. It just so happened that it was an African-American who had gone into a dressing room with another woman, which is also a red flag. When two people go into the same dressing room together, that's a red flag that something might be going on."

Kron says the store has footage that shows the "furtive type of behavior that was being exhibited. They were not acting as though they were normal customers trying on clothing."

Asked about what specifically prompted the employee to suspect that shoplifting might be happening, Kron says Bedard and her daughter "were piling up clothing" on a bench behind the register, and "constantly going in and out of the same dressing room, coming out with different numbers of clothing. One of the sales managers saw them go into dressing room with four [items] and believed she saw them come out with three. That alone prompted her to question, aside from all the furtive behavior... that just prompted the question, which is, 'would you mind just showing the articles [of clothing] you have.'"

"It got out of hand," Kron says. He confirmed that after Bedard and her daughter left the store, an employee followed. As the dispute continued on the sidewalk, Kron says it was Bedard who urged the employee to call the police. Once police arrived, "that was the end of Amarcord's dealing with the situation," Kron says, adding that he and the owners subsequently posted an apology on Sturges's Facebook page, and that it was deleted.

"We are considering litigation based on what's going to happen over the weekend," Kron tells Gothamist, referring to the protest planned tonight, on the eve of a vintage fashion show in Industry City. "They know Amarcord is going to be part of a fashion show at Industry City. Nobody will talk to us. Clearly there is a defamation case here."

The NYPD did not provide any information about the incident, which has sparked a backlash on social media, including calls for a boycott of Amarcord. Bedard and Sturges are expected to attend tonight's protest outside the shop.

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