September 30, 2019 • Sarah Schwartz
Town & Country
A troll attack renews one retailer’s love of America — and her community
What began as a regular summer day for Suzanne Loesch, owner of the Ithaca, New York, store Mockingbird Paperie, quickly went awry. At that point, she was still unaware that a member of a pro-Trump Facebook page had posted a photograph of one of the Sapling Press anti-Trump cards in her shop — and her business was in its 30,000+ followers’ sights.
“These cards occupy just one row of a spinner in the rear of our store, nestled among thousands of unrelated cards and other paper and gift product,” Loesch explained. “However, the post implied that the cards were plastered throughout the front windows of the store and at eye-level for children. The posting party provided our contact information and suggested that readers ‘have at it.’”
Loesch first heard about the angry post when she got a call from her daughter suggesting she contact the police or FBI. But the storm was already raging, she recalled. “Some of the emails and phone calls coming in were threatening to burn the store down, declaring that (I) was a pedophile and should be dragged out and shot. Several direct death threats and hundreds of veiled death threats were posted or called in.”
At first, Loesch was devastated, shocked and infuriated that this was happening in Ithaca, which she described as a “sensitive, progressive, grassroots sort of community … a little Berkeley.”
Like most retailers, Loesch regards her store as a necessary, much-loved appendage. “Our store is a place of beauty for everyone,” she observed. “I have spent years curating an experience for our customers, not just a store with merchandise. The store was inspired by an actual love story. Hate never had a place here.”
The next day, Loesch noticed a photographer taking shots of her store as she arrived. Local reporters began calling, as did the NBC and CBS affiliates. “At that point my husband and I came up with a plan,” Loesch described. “Even though some of the postings were extremely hateful and profane, we decided to try to talk to every person who called to complain. So for a week and a half my husband took time (off), sat in my office and answered every call. He talked to veterans, drunk people, insightful people, people who believed in the first amendment, angry people, some quoting from the Bible on their laps, and people like us who were just sad that our country is so divided.”
Meanwhile, Loesch tackled emails. “I picked one, a woman from Florida named Bonnie who let me know that she did not like the cards and shared her feelings of frustration. By the end of her email, layered in with her anger, was a message of kindness and understanding. So, I began writing her every day. We talked about our differences, how we grew up, our losses, our families. What was so amazing to me was not the differences, it was all the similarities in our lives.”
And although “hate and insanity” still raged, something beautiful asserted itself. “My community came out in force,” Loesch remembered. “I started talking to my fellow business colleagues and though we are all different people (with) different political leanings, I got the same message from everyone: Don’t stop selling them.”
Eventually, Loesch reopened her Facebook and Instagram pages with her “open letter to the world.” It reads in part: “As this country continues to roil over current political schisms, with an almost blind rage at the extremes, it seems that division has become our way of life. As a step toward conciliation, we thank all of those who have expressed their opinions. We thank those who have been considerate enough to explain their opposition in a logical and polite manner. And we wholeheartedly thank those who have made the effort to voice their support for our business. You’ve shown us that in Ithaca we live in a community of caring, participation, and openness.”
While the negativity hasn’t completely died down, Loesch still deems the response to her letter “absolutely positive.” Loesch decided to donate the proceeds from the Sapling Press cards to a charity supporting women’s issues. And, she offered some advice to retailers who find themselves thrust into a similar storm.
“Remember who you are and why you do what you do,” she emphasized.