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Real Deal

Real Deal: The Case of the Love Knot

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BY KATE PETERSON

Editor’s Note: Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories, but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved. The names of the characters and stores have been changed and should not be confused with real people or places.

Orchard Bay is a small town … a very small town. The northernmost bedroom community of a major city in the Northeast, it seems that everyone in town knows everyone. Town residents have always been fiercely loyal to their own, as well — shopping locally and supporting Orchard Bay businesses, even though many of them work in the city. Many of the tourists who flock to the community in the summer months are regulars — beachfront and cottage owners who come back year after year. Even they treat the town as their own, and the merchants in town as their trusted friends.

Rick and Jenny LeFleur loved that about their hometown. Since opening The Gem House on Main Street in Orchard Bay over 30 years ago, they’ve worked hard to take care of their clients, and to continually earn the trust of the people who relied on them for their special occasion memories. Jenny often thought that knowing just about everyone in town made the job pretty easy. Her customers were also her neighbors, social and community acquaintances, business associates and friends. At this stage in her career, she was delighted to be selling engagement rings to the kids of her friends and the friends of her kids. Now, as Jenny and Rick sat at their kitchen table with their attorney (Rick’s former high school classmate and a prominent town resident) discussing a particularly dicey customer issue, they both agreed that for the first time that either could remember, the overlap between their friends and customers was not always such a good thing. Relying on their attorney’s confidentiality, they laid out the story …

Dan Wellinger — their neighbor, was well respected in town. He’s a good-looking stock broker, former high school and college football player and coach of the town’s Pop Warner team. He and his beautiful, smart wife, Jillian, have three boys, two of whom are studying at a prestigious Ivy League college. Dan drives a new BMW and takes his family on fantastic vacations. He and Jillian seemed to have the ideal relationship. It wasn’t at all unusual to see them out together at events holding hands, Dan looking like the perfect gentleman and Jillian the adoring wife. Jenny had sold countless pieces to the Wellingers over the years — many were Rick’s one-of-a-kind custom creations. It seemed they had it all.

A little over three years ago, Dan, Rick and several of their friends signed up for a boot camp fitness class at a new gym that opened up in town. The class was run by a certified fitness instructor who had just moved to the area. Actually, she was the wife of a local boy who had moved to the Midwest for college some years ago, and who recently moved back home with her and their young kids. As he thought about it, Rick remembered that the instructor’s husband was a high-school classmate of his own daughter.

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By the end of the third class, though no one talked about it, it was clear to the guys that Dan’s interest in their young instructor was moving beyond her facility in the gym. Nearly a year after the end of their class, Dan announced to Jillian that he’d fallen in love with his soul mate — and that he was leaving her to start his new life. He moved to an apartment near his office in the city, and his girlfriend moved with him, leaving her husband and kids behind. What Jillian didn’t know was that in the year before, Dan had managed to transfer just about all of their savings to a separate account in another town. What he hadn’t transferred, he’d spent freely — just as he always had. Among his purchases was a pair of 2-carat diamond stud earrings and a very expensive watch — both of which he told Rick he was buying on behalf of a co-worker at his city office — something he had done occasionally over the years.

A short time after Dan left, Jillian, needing money to pay for a good lawyer, brought her wedding ring into the store to sell. She couldn’t wait for a consignment sale, so she reluctantly accepted what Jenny offered her for a cash buy. Two weeks later, Dan, while in town visiting his son, came into the store to buy a Mother’s Day gift for his new love.

Jenny couldn’t believe he actually had the nerve to come into the store. Everyone there — Jenny and Rick, all of their employees, other customers — everyone knew what he had done. She was seething. In Jenny’s view, this man destroyed two families — and here he was, acting like nothing was wrong. As she watched Dan talk with Rick, something just snapped — and Jenny, before she even realized what she was doing, was out at the showcase, staring Dan down. She began by calmly and coolly asking him to leave the store. He looked at Rick and said that he was there to make a purchase — and that there was no reason for him to leave. At that point, while Rick (and the two other customers in the store) looked on in shock, Jenny launched into a loud tirade, dressing him down for what she called his “middle-aged fantasy” with a woman his son’s age — for destroying her friend, for ruining two marriages, disrupting the lives of five kids — all while he was acting the part of the upstanding community guy — the coach and leader — a supposed mentor to young men.

Dan, obviously embarrassed and very angry — handed the ring he was looking at back to Rick and turned to leave. As he did, he made it clear to Rick and Jenny and everyone else who could hear that they had not heard the last of the incident.

The BIG Questions
What kind of trouble is Jenny in at this point? Can her business be in legal trouble because of her behavior? In a small town where your customers are friends and neighbors, does a business owner have the right to refuse to do business with people who she finds morally offensive? What about being forced to choose sides between customers who are also friends in a divorce situation? Is there a way to keep your business out of it when your customers are your friends?
Comment below (please leave your name and store) or at [email protected]

 

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