Elkton, Main St. business dispute led to protest closure
Owners, officials negotiate resolution
— A nearly daylong closure of a popular Main Street business in protest of alleged harassment by a town employee drew the attention of many locals and town leaders, who were able to negotiate a resolution before the day’s end.
Brookbend Interiors posted a sign on its door at 116 E. Main St. on Thursday morning, announcing that it was closed for the day as a form of protest and directing shoppers to call Elkton Town Hall for more information.
About 7 p.m. Wednesday, the store, which opened in May 2017, posted on its Facebook page that the closure was in response to “mistreatment from a paid town employee.”
“We’ve been experiencing perceived personal and professional harassment by the town employee to the point that we’ve reached this hard-line,” the post read. “We will remain closed until further notice.”
Steven Jennings, who owns the store with his husband, John Palmer, told the Whig on Thursday morning that he would not comment on the situation beyond the posting, preferring to give town officials a
chance to respond.
“It’s not about following the ‘rules’ but how we’ve been treated … even bullied,” the post read. “We will not be bullied anymore.”
By midday Thursday, the social media posting had drawn comments from more than 125 people and town hall had received inquiries about the store, officials reported.
Mayor Rob Alt began discussions with the store’s owners in the afternoon, and by 3 p.m. had reached a resolution: the store would reopen, the employee’s conduct would be investigated, the mayor offered a public apology and merchants would be directed to forward all complaints about town staff directly to the town administrator.
“From the town perspective, there was a grievance with our zoning department,” Alt told the Whig of the episode, declining to elaborate because it was a personnel issue. “We have been in conversation with them today and I believe we’ve reached an understanding. We’ve got a great chemistry together and they’ve experienced a lot of success in Elkton.”
Alt publicly apologized to the owners of Brookbend Interiors in particular and all town businesses for the issue in a response to Brookbend’s Facebook post.
“I feel as though we are not listening to you,” he wrote. “I promise that you will be heard, and you have been heard.”
By 3:30 p.m. Thursday, the store posted on social media that it was “open — and awesome.”
“All we asked is for a public apology to all merchants downtown, and we received it from our Mayor Rob Alt approximately an hour ago on behalf of the entire town,” the Brookbend Interiors post reads. “We have accepted this apology and reopened our doors.”
At the same time, Jennings expressed regret “that our mistreatment spilled out into the public,” but added it was time to stand up and say enough is enough.
Alt, who said that Jennings and Palmer are also his residential neighbors, noted that the issue has been “stewing for several months.”
“They really care about this town and (the closure) was their way of showing that,” he said. “I may not have agreed with their method, but I think shows their dedication.”
The good news, according to the mayor, was that the zoning issue at hand is correctable. While some surmised online Thursday that the issue had to do with Brookbend’s use of sidewalks for sale of their items, Alt would only say that was not the issue at hand.
“We’re trying our best to work with downtown merchants to make sure their concerns are addressed,” he said. “We’re here to serve and we do have to do whatever what we can, within the rules, to treat residents and businesses well.” it
As to whether he believed the unnamed town employee had “harassed” the business, Alt said that “quite frankly I don’t know all the details.”
“That’s not really something the elected officials would be involved in,” he added. “We’re the elected body, and the mayor and the commissioners really only have oversight over one person: the town administrator. Everyone else reports to the administrator.”
Alt reported Town Administrator Lewis George was “truly investigating the grievances, and will address any personnel issue he finds.” that
Brookbend Interiors at 116 E. Main St. in Elkton closed Thursday in protest of how the store’s owners feel they are being treated by town officials. After discussions with the mayor, the store reopened late in the day.
The sidewalk in front of Brookbend Interiors of East Main Street in Elkton was quiet Thursday because the owners have closed the store, citing harassment from a town employee. It later reopened after resolving the dispute with the town.
This sign taped to the window of Brookbend Interiors on East Main Street in Elkton tells potential customers the store in closed.