Off The Shelves

July 3, 2013
BY Marc Shapiro
A downtown shop removes swastika wristbands amid one customer’s complaint — and a visit from the JT
The Flag Shop in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor was selling swastika wristbands, along with other wristbands from countries worldwide. The price: $3.99. (Marc Shapiro)

The Flag Shop in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor was selling swastika wristbands, along with other wristbands from countries worldwide. The price: $3.99.
(Marc Shapiro)

On a recent trip to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, Jacob Arbittier, 18, and his father, Doug, residents of York, Pa., wandered into The Flag Shop in the Pratt Street Pavilion. The store was typical of those found in any tourist destination. There were flags, T-shirts, sports memorabilia, military garb and a smorgasbord of other knickknacks, large and small, from countries worldwide.

Jacob Arbittier came across a revolving display of plastic wristbands with flags and different countries’ names on them. As he flipped through, there was one wristband that threw him for a loop. The black rubber bracelet was painted with a Nazi flag.

“It was kind of shocking to see it,”  Jacob Arbittier said.

Store manager Harold Simms said the half-dozen or so wristbands were a special order that a customer never picked up, so, stuck with them, the store decided to try to sell them. In defending his decision, Simms told the JT that the shop will “sell everything, including Confederate flags.”

Jacob Arbittier emailed theBaltimore Jewish Times, which visited the store the next day, on June 20. A bracelet was purchased, and an employee was asked about the store’s policy. The staffer refused to be interviewed, but the next day, when this reporter telephoned the shop, Simms said the bands had been pulled.

“We live for customer service,”  Simms said, noting the flag shop has been in business for 25 years. “We don’t offend customers.”

The JT visited the store again on June 24; the wristbands had been removed. Jacob Arbittier’s response: “That’s awesome.”

“Individual persons, if they see something wrong or something that upsets them, I think they should know that they have the power to do something about it,”  Jacob Arbittier said.

Aaron W., an Alabama resident who declined to give his last name because he is a government worker, visited the shop with his daughter on Thursday, June 20. While he mentioned that they live near a Ku Klux Klan meeting area, and he fought for ‘the right to freedom’ in Desert Storm, he said that the swastika is insulting to Holocaust survivors and the store shouldn’t be selling it.

“Certain things in American culture bring about hatred, and this is one of them,” he said.

David Friedman, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Washington, D.C., office, said there’s no justification for the store selling the wristbands.

“It’s outrageous, it’s offensive, and they should be ashamed of making money by pandering to people’s stupidity or hatred,” he said. Since it’s not a historical item, it only serves the purpose of promoting the swastika, Friedman said.

It is also troubling that a swastika was on display in a place that promotes world awareness and diversity, Friedman said. Fortunately, these incidents are not frequent in the
Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area, he said. He recalled an incident a few years ago at a stand near Union Station in Washington, where a swastika pin was being sold among flag pins, but he believes it was taken down.

Doug Arbittier, who said selling these wristbands was “callous and misinformed,” was also shocked to see the swastika in downtown Baltimore, which attracts tourists from all over the world.

“Baltimore is a melting pot like many other large cities, so to see a sign of intolerance in a melting pot was amazing to me,” he said.

Since the end result was positive, Doug Arbittier said he thinks it was a great lesson for his son, who will be a freshman at Syracuse University in the fall.

“It shows that if you believe in something strongly, you need to go through the proper channels to bring about the change you want to see happen,” he said. Jacob Arbittier had also contact the ADL.

“It was clear to me that the owner of the shop and the manager had no understanding of the implications. They were willing to brush it off,” he said. “They should take a trip to the Holocaust museum.”

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