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Best of Janesville Vendors Leave Over Racist Items at Best of Beloit

On Tuesday, March. 9 a group of tenants, including local artisans Paquita Purnell and Crystal Perez left the Best of Janesville Vintage Mall over racist items put out for sale, including a confederate flag with Ku Klux Klan symbol and two artworks showing racist caricatures, at the sister mall located in South Beloit, IL. The items were displayed on the prior Saturday during the Vintage Shop Hop event. 

The incident has generated a lot of buzz on social media, with 160 comments on the store’s facebook post regarding the items. Store owner, James Flister, has faced some criticism saying that he did not do enough to publicly apologize. 

The post, on the Best of Beloit facebook page, was a recap of the weekend’s events for the location, saying ”sales records and attendance records and of course a wowing experience!”.

The post described the incident as a customer who reported what she felt like was “racist”/”inappropriate” items in a vendor booth at the South Beloit store location”. 

The post also said that the store and staff do not “condone inappropriate items; but if we find them we take them out”, and the items in question were removed immediately. 

One commenter, Stephanie Zibell, wrote that she was in the store approximately one and a half hours after the original complaint was made and the items were still out on the shelves. 

Purnell and Perez, two longtime tenants of the mall, said that Fliester downplayed the event in text messages, revealed in The Beloit Daily News. Perez says that Fliester also threatened to evict her from her vendor space after she publicly spoke against the racist items

Perez, who sells country and farmhouse style decor, believes that Fliester should have made more of a public apology and a full explanation of what happened, and should have met the criticism more head on. Instead, he made a general statement of what occurred and used quotations around the words ‘racist’ and ‘inappropriate’.

Perez told The Beloit Daily News that seemed “flippant” to her. She also told the publication “In this day and age, it’s just not acceptable, and especially not with the movements we’ve … recently had going on, Black Lives Matter, the George Floyd issue”.

Perez ultimately left the mall after Fliester sent her the following text message.

““I really love you guys and would love to not kick you out,” but “on each team there is a head coach. I am the head coach. If you are not on board with what is going on, it may be better to part ways than to disrupt the locker room. I will leave that up to you at this point.”

In a phone interview with The Beloit Daily News, Fliester said “it can be difficult and “impractical” for the malls to screen all of the vendor spaces for potentially objectionable items”.

According to the local news source, Fliester had another text message exchange with tenants in which he said the controversy reminded him of recent public sentiments over perceived racist themes in Dr Seuss’s work.

 “It is definitely a spectrum,” Flister wrote. “When we see something inappropriate, we take it out—unfortunately the definition of ‘offensive’ is so all over the board—Example: Dr. Seuss and Washington Redskins recently.”

In this exchange, Fliester wrote that the situation was “silly” and would “blow over” soon.

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