In Politically Divided Michigan, Business Owners Try To Dodge Cancel Culture

By Susan Selasky Detroit Free Press

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As Susan Selasky reports. "Taking a political stance, even on personal social media accounts, can be a quagmire for business owners, with big repercussions that carry dollar signs."


When the then-owner of the Detroit Popcorn Company posted a racially charged comment on social media in early June, the reaction was swift and the fallout immediate.

Local companies ended business relationships with the company that sells popcorn and concession equipment. Customers blasted the business on social media, vowing never to shop there again.

When word spread on social media earlier this summer that the Genuine Toy Company was requiring customers to wear face masks in the downtown Plymouth shop to prevent the spread of COVID-19, its Facebook page was inundated with posts attacking the policy.

"I couldn't keep up with it," Elle Dare, who owns the store with her husband, Charles, told Hometown Life. "It was like, 'delete, delete, delete.' "

More recently, Costco reportedly pulled Palmetto Cheese from its shelves after the company owner called Black Lives Matter a "terror organization" in a post on his personal Facebook page. Brian Henry apologized at a news conference, saying his comments were "hurtful and insensitive" and urged people not to boycott the company.

It's anything but business as usual these days amid a super-charged political environment fueled by a contentious presidential election, a global pandemic, widespread unemployment, an economy running in myriad directions and the nationwide Black Lives Movement.

Americans are angry and sharply divided. And that can spill over into the marketplace as passionate consumers chose who to do business with, or who to shun.

Taking a political stance, even on personal social media accounts, can be a quagmire for business owners, with big repercussions that carry dollar signs. Even something as simple as following pandemic safety guidelines, as in the case of the Genuine Toy Company, can lead to calls for a business boycott.

At the Genuine Toy Company, Dare recently posted on the store's Facebook page that she's considering going back to phone sales, curbside pickup and appointments because COVID cases are spiking and people come in not wearing masks properly over their noses.

"We've had people who took their mask off and we told them and they kind of grumbled," Dare said. "Most (who enter without a mask) tend to leave and go get one and most say 'sorry I forgot to put it on.' "

If the COVID numbers go up substantially this fall, Dare said she will go back to curbside.

"We are trying to follow the rules. We want to keep people safe. We want this to end like everyone else," she told the Free Press.

Social media backlash An unexpected caveat came with the Detroit Popcorn Company's dilemma. Its former owner came out of retirement, and enforced a clause in the original sale of the business to take back the business. The clause permitted the take-back if the owner disparaged the company name in anyway. It was done within days. Case closed. Right?

Not so fast. The new, but former owner, still faced backlash with people commenting on social media, saying they would not shop there or buy its product. The original post, which made a crude reference to how George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police, was deleted, but people were still sharing screenshots of it.

The company is in the process of being sold again and the new purchasers of the Detroit Popcorn Company declined to comment for this story.

Then there's Blake Farms, which seemingly managed to anger just about everybody when it agreed to host a Republican political rally and then canceled it. It was a hard lesson for the popular Macomb County-based apple and cider business.

The Blake family blamed a "miscommunication" for the controversy. The family said it had agreed to rent space to Lisa McClain, a conservative Republican running for Congress in Michigan's Thumb and an avid supporter of President Donald Trump, "under the assumption that was a small private gathering."

But the event was advertised as a pro-Trump rally, with a flyer implying it was being sponsored by Blake Farms.

The social media backlash was swift with posters on Facebook and other social media platforms urging a boycott of Blake's three locations, as well as other businesses that sell its hard cider.

The Blakes apologized and asked McClain, described as a family friend, to move the rally somewhere else,

That ignited the other end of the political spectrum, with more calls for a boycott, this time because they perceived Blake's as caving to pressure from the anti-Trump crowd.

Company Vice President Andrew Blake said they've rented space for events in the past regardless of political affiliation.

"It's unfortunate that people are so polarized on so many different issues," Blake said. "Politically and otherwise, ultimately, that's really where a lot this angst and frustration comes from."

Blake blamed social media and pandemic angst.

"People are glued to phones and computers and have a lot of time to be on social media to address their frustrations," Blake said. "There's a lot of fear and anxiety."

Tanya Gazdik was among those who initially took to Facebook criticizing Blake's for hosting the rally. She used to buy Blake's hard cider, but no longer does. And once she starts eating back at restaurants, if the hard cider is offered on the menu, she plans on speaking to the manager suggesting other ciders.

"Businesses need to stay out of politics," Gazdik said. "Either way, you are potentially alienating customers and that's not going to be palatable to half of your customers. "

Gazdik lives in Detroit and is an automotive writer for an advertising and marketing publication in New York. She has strong convictions and follows through on them.

After the last election, Gazdik said, she fired her longtime veterinarian because she was posting pro-Trump and anti-news media stuff on her Facebook.

"I said, 'I am journalist, that's how I get my money and you're telling me all media is fake? You are posting that for the world and I can't continue to do business with you.' "

'Cancel culture' While people have always boycotted businesses for a variety of reasons, the internet and social media have made action more mainstream, immediate and swift.

Conservatives slam what they call "cancel culture," in which either businesses or individuals can be targeted for their views.

But politically fueled boycotts know no party boundaries. When Costco announced in the spring it would not allow customers into its warehouse stores without a face mask, there were immediate calls for a boycott of the retail giant. Amazon, the NFL and Keurig are among the list of businesses and organizations targeted by the right at one time or another for boycotts.

Trump, in a July speech at Mount Rushmore, called cancel culture "a new far-left fascism" that has no place in America. Yet the president himself has at times called for boycotts against companies ranging from Apple to Macy's to Fox News.

In the current climate, it can seem like it's open season for people to have a reason to boycott or support a business. And the list is long, from grocery stores and restaurants that don't _ or do _ enforce mask wearing to industry giants like Goya Foods, whose CEO praised Trump for his leadership.

"What I see being really different now compared to 10 years ago is the pervasiveness of social media and the persuasiveness of smartphones with cameras," said Jerry Davis, professor of management and sociology at the University of Michigan,. "Anybody can be a broadcaster and anything can go viral."

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