Buy Ivanka?

In the face of boy­cotts, some Trump sup­port­ers fight back

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY ABHA BHATTARAI IS­TOCK/WASH­ING­TON POST IL­LUS­TRA­TION

Mary Car­son picks up her leopard-print tote bag and tugs on her leopard-print scarf.

“I’m just go­ing to do a lit­tle bit of busi­ness,” the 77-year-old says as she walks into Neiman Mar­cus at the Tysons Gal­le­ria in North­ern Vir­ginia and asks for the man­ager. He ap­pears in a pin­stripe suit and shakes her hand.

“I’m very dis­ap­pointed in what’s hap­pened with the Trump line,” she tells him. “I hate to do this — I’m not a real ac­tivist — but I learned a long, long time ago that you can­not mix busi­ness and pol­i­tics.” The man­ager lis­tens pa­tiently. Car­son, who worked in mar­ket­ing be­fore she re­tired, pulls out her Neiman Mar­cus credit card and pre­pares to give it back. It was the ob­vi­ous thing to do, she says, once the re­tailer stopped car­ry­ing Ivanka Trump’s jew­elry line on its web­site a few weeks ago.

“If the com­pany feels like they can hurt the daugh­ter of a pres­i­dent by do­ing some­thing like this, that’s mean,” said Car­son, who voted for Trump. “I feel very strongly about that.”

A week ear­lier, Car­son had driven to the nearby Nord­strom and re­turned her store credit card. She’d had that card since 1988, she told the man­ager, and had used it to buy at least one St. John suit a year — price tag, roughly $1,400 — for decades.

“I said to her, ‘You all really are the best store in the area,’ ” re­called Car­son, who lives in Vi­enna, Va. “‘It’s a shame you couldn’t keep your mouths shut about our pres­i­dent.’ ”

Some com­pa­nies have an­nounced in re­cent weeks that they would be culling Ivanka Trump’s brand. Oth­ers have

faced pres­sure from left-lean­ing groups to drop other Trump-family prod­ucts. In re­sponse, con­ser­va­tive vot­ers — who say they are tired of the neg­a­tiv­ity sur­round­ing the new pres­i­dent — are stag­ing their own boy­cotts against main­stream re­tail­ers. It’s dif­fi­cult to gauge how wide­spread these ef­forts are, or whether they will in­spire real change, but sto­ries about them are bub­bling up.

The move­ment gained steam this month when Nord­strom dropped Ivanka Trump’s cloth­ing and shoes from its stores af­ter a pe­riod of de­clin­ing sales. Soon af­ter that, Kmart and Sears, also cit­ing slow sales, an­nounced they would be re­mov­ing some Trump­branded prod­ucts from their web­sites. There were re­ports that Mar­shalls and TJ Maxx had in­structed em­ploy­ees to re­move Ivanka Trump signs from store racks, although her cloth­ing is still on sale there.

The first five weeks of Trump’s pres­i­dency have been marked by po­lit­i­cal po­lar­iza­tion that has only deep­ened in the af­ter­math of a his­toric, con­tentious elec­tion. It has stirred a spirit of ac­tivism for Amer­i­cans who say they are try­ing to make a dif­fer­ence where they can — and that in­creas­ingly means mak­ing de­lib­er­ate choices about where they shop and what they buy.

“Boy­cotts are noth­ing new — they’ve lit­er­ally been around for­ever — but we’re see­ing re­tail be­come more of a bully pul­pit,” said Mark Co­hen, di­rec­tor of re­tail stud­ies at Columbia Busi­ness School. “How are con­sumers show­ing their dis­ap­point­ment? Some are demon­strat­ing, oth­ers are spend­ing a fair amount of time com­plain­ing. Many are vot­ing with their wal­lets.”

Back at Neiman Mar­cus, Car­son is telling the man­ager that she in­tends to do just that. It didn’t bother her so much when Macy’s dropped Pres­i­dent Trump’s suits, shirts and ties two sum­mers ago af­ter he called Mex­i­can im­mi­grants “killers” and “rapists.” But some­thing about this re­cent round of can­cel­la­tions, she says, struck a chord.

“There is just so much neg­a­tiv­ity in the coun­try right now,” she says. “Ev­ery­thing has be­come po­lit­i­cal.”

The man­ager as­sures Car­son that a few Neiman Mar­cus stores still carry Ivanka Trump jew­elry, so she de­cides to hold onto her credit card — for now.

“But if that changes, I’ll be back to ask more ques­tions,” she says. “I’m go­ing to keep my eye on this.”

‘There are a lot of us’

A few days later, Car­son is back at the mall. It’s Sun­day af­ter­noon, just af­ter church, and she sees some­thing that star­tles her: a T-shirt that says “F*** Amer­ica” promi­nently dis­played in a store en­trance.

She walks in and asks the man­ager to re­move it. “It’s not ap­pro­pri­ate,” she says. When he re­fuses — it’s his opin­ion against hers, he tells her — she en­lists the mall’s man­age­ment. The shirt is re­moved.

These bursts of neg­a­tiv­ity and dis­plays of ha­tred, as she sees them, have been mount­ing since be­fore the elec­tion. Then came Trump’s vic­tory and with it, swift back­lash from the left. Take, for in­stance, the Women’s March on Wash­ing­ton the day af­ter the inau­gu­ra­tion. Car­son read up on it on­line.

“I could not be­lieve the rea­sons they were do­ing this,” she said. “It was like, you know, pro-abor­tion — and I’m sorry, I’m Catholic, I’m a lit­tle re­li­gious and old-fash­ioned.”

When her long­time yoga teacher sent an email of­fer­ing $5 classes be­fore the march, Car­son wrote back and told her she would no longer at­tend the stu­dio.

“I was very nice, very con­ge­nial,” she said. “But what did she think: If she gives me $10 off one yoga les­son, I’m go­ing to go and march with her in the Women’s March? I’m sorry, but that, to me, isn’t do­ing busi­ness.”

The way she sees it, re­tail­ers are only lis­ten­ing to one side when they shed Trump-branded prod­ucts. The Grab Your Wal­let cam­paign, which en­cour­ages wide­spread boy­cotts of com­pa­nies that carry Trump brands, has dom­i­nated the news, she says. Her hope is her coun­ter­ac­tions — credit card can­cel­la­tions and store boy­cotts — will show re­tail­ers that con­ser­va­tive shop­pers have spend­ing power, too.

And she isn’t alone. A num­ber of Trump vot­ers — mostly long­time Repub­li­cans — said they had taken sim­i­lar ac­tions in re­cent weeks. Many had never been ac­tive be­fore but said they felt a sense of ur­gency now. They weren’t rep­re­sented in the main­stream me­dia, they said, and in­creas­ingly felt their in­flu­ence in other ar­eas slip­ping, too. It felt im­por­tant to band to­gether.

“Busi­ness women, ed­u­cated women like me, we voted for Trump,” said a 51-year-old Ira­nian im­mi­grant who lives in Los An­ge­les. “That’s what these stores don’t un­der­stand. There are a lot of us, and we like to shop.”

The woman, a reg­is­tered Demo­crat, spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause she feared back­lash at her fi­nan­cial ser­vices job.

“When Nord­strom an­nounced they were get­ting rid of Ivanka’s brand, that was a deal-breaker for me,” she said, adding that she owns about 25 pieces of cloth­ing and at least eight pairs of shoes from Ivanka Trump’s line. “If man­age­ment is go­ing to be so nar­row­minded, I’m just not go­ing to shop there any­more.”

Nord­strom says its de­ci­sion to drop the brand was based on plum­met­ing sales, not pol­i­tics. Com­pany doc­u­ments ob­tained by the Wall Street Jour­nal showed that sales of Ivanka Trump cloth­ing and shoes fell more than 70 per­cent in the weeks be­fore the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

“Each year we cut about 10 per­cent [of brands] and re­fresh our as­sort­ment with about the same amount,” the com­pany said. “In this case, based on the brand’s per­for­mance, we’ve de­cided not to buy it for this sea­son.”

There are small signs that the cam­paign is work­ing. Ivanka Trump’s per­fume sky­rock­eted to the top of Ama­zon.com’s best-sell­ing fra­grances as the pres­i­dent’s sup­port­ers looked to make their mark. (Jef­frey P. Bezos, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Ama­zon, owns The Wash­ing­ton Post.)

“I bought this per­fume in sup­po­lit­i­cally port of Ivanka Trump,” a user named D. Watts wrote in an Ama­zon re­view. “I had no idea how it smelled. I have to say I was pleas­antly sur­prised and I LOVE it!!”

“The fact is that the con­ser­va­tive woman also has a huge, huge in­flu­ence on spend­ing,” said Tammy Witt O’Connor of Ox­ford, Mich., who put her Nord­strom Re­wards card through the shred­der af­ter she heard the com­pany had dropped Ivanka Trump’s line. “For these re­tail brands to not re­al­ize that is shock­ing to me. I want re­tail­ers to be aware that there are con­se­quences on both sides.”

Rachel Veazey does, too. She used to shop at TJ Maxx at least three times a week. In a typ­i­cal month, she spent $1,000 buy­ing cloth­ing, fur­ni­ture and home wares at the store. No longer. “When TJ Maxx tries to make a state­ment against the pres­i­dent’s family, that to me is just un­nec­es­sary,” said Veazey, a reg­is­tered Repub­li­can from Cleve­land, Tenn., who backed Pres­i­dent Trump from the beginning.

“It’s really cramped my style,” she said last week, “but you’ve got to stand by your prin­ci­ples. I’ve re­sisted the temp­ta­tion to go.”

But a few days later, she wrote on Face­book, TJ Maxx had lured her back.

“The mother ship called and I had a mo­ment of weak­ness,” she posted on­line, along­side a selfie of her­self out­side her fa­vorite store.

“I broke down and went in,” she said. “I mean, $24 for a nice dress? I just couldn’t re­sist. Gosh, I’m not a very good boy­cotter.

“But,” she added, “I’m try­ing.”

Po­lar­ized con­sump­tion

In terms of large-scale in­flu­ence, an­a­lysts say it’s un­likely boy­cotts will make or break main­stream re­tail­ers. It’s too soon to tell, for ex­am­ple, whether Nord­strom’s earn­ings will be af­fected by the po­lit­i­cal firestorm. Nord­strom’s pres­i­dent on Thurs­day said “it’s not really dis­cernible one way or the other” whether a tweet by Pres­i­dent Trump chas­tiz­ing Nord­strom for treat­ing his daugh­ter “so un­fairly” had af­fected sales.

Hobby Lobby, Chick-fil-A and Tar­get have been the sub­ject of protests in re­cent years, but all three are still in busi­ness, said Paula Rosen­blum, man­ag­ing part­ner of Re­tail Sys­tems Re­search in Miami.

“We’re in such a hy­per-po­lar­ized en­vi­ron­ment — I’ve never seen the coun­try this po­lar­ized, ever,” she said.

But even those who in­tend to make a stand may not stick with it. “In the end, con­ve­nience over­rides ev­ery­thing else,” Rosen­blum said.

Mary Car­son is not about con­ve­nience. Four years ago, af­ter she’d over­come can­cer and en­dured four rounds of chemo­ther­apy, Car­son found she had lost all feel­ing in her hands and feet. For three years, doc­tors told her the sen­sa­tion would come back. And then one day, a doc­tor told her to “suck it up and ac­cept” that it wouldn’t.

“I looked at him and I thought, that’s rude,” Car­son re­called. “But you know what? That turned out to be the best les­son I ever had. I sucked it up and ac­cepted it. I’m alive. If the na­tion would suck it up — this is our pres­i­dent now, just ac­cept it — we would all be in a bet­ter place to­day.”

Car­son, who once was a Demo­crat, says it’s im­por­tant to note that she bris­tles at the pres­i­dent’s style. (She declined to dis­cuss his poli­cies.)

When the Trump cam­paign called ask­ing for money dur­ing the elec­tion, Car­son said she wanted to of­fer a mes­sage to the nom­i­nee in­stead: “Tell him if I was his mother, I’d wash his mouth out with soap. He has to learn to stop lash­ing out.”

But still, she says, the me­dia are fo­cus­ing only on the bad. She is toy­ing with can­cel­ing her 50-year sub­scrip­tion to The Wash­ing­ton Post, which she reads each morn­ing, along with USA To­day and the Fred­er­icks­burg (Va.) Free LanceS­tar.

Ev­ery­one seems to be against the pres­i­dent, Car­son says. There have been leaders she hasn’t agreed with, but she’s never made a fuss.

But now she says she’s hold­ing com­pa­nies ac­count­able and ral­ly­ing her friends, too. A cou­ple of weeks ago, af­ter re­turn­ing her credit card at Nord­strom, Car­son posted to her Face­book page: “Feel like a load is off my back !!!! ”

Twenty-five friends “liked” her up­date. Many wrote back say­ing that they had done the same, or that they planned to.

SHAWN POYN­TER FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Rachel Veazey of Cleve­land, Tenn., swore off TJ Maxx, a fa­vorite store, over re­ports it had re­moved pro­mo­tional signs for Ivanka Trump’s line of clothes. But she later went back, con­fess­ing, “Gosh, I’m not a very good boy­cotter.”

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