THE TOUGH CUSTOMER- What a drag: Charles Marsh and case of the shoes
Among the famous people the Alden Shoe Company counts as loyal customers is a certain archeology professor, Dr. Indiana Jones.
Harrison Ford apparently took a liking to the Middleborough, Massachusetts company's products, and they became part of Indy's wardrobe.
A pair of Alden shoes also figures prominently in a story right here in Charlottesville, also involving a university professor, although it's more a comedy of manners than adventure.
In early February, Charles Marsh, a UVA professor of Religion and Society, purchased a pair of $275 Alden Cape Cod loafers at venerable retailer Eljo's, formerly of the Corner, now on Millmont Street.
"I wore the pair two times," Marsh says, "once to church and once to dinner with my wife. After walking less than a mile in the shoes, I was dismayed to discover that the rubber heel had worn all the way to the leather sole."
Marsh says he returned the shoes to Eljo's. He was surprised when Eljo's told him that Alden would not repair or replace the shoes. Unconvinced, he wrote Alden himself, asking among other things that it confirm that Eljo's did, in fact, return the shoes.
On May 12, Arthur Tarlow, president of the 124-year-old family business, wrote Marsh to say he had "discussed the condition of your shoes with the person who inspected them here at the factory. The determination was made that the wear condition of the heels was reasonable in comparison with the wear on the other components of the shoes (soles and uppers). No defect in either original material or manufacture was found."
Meanwhile, Marsh's conflict with Eljo's escalated. Marsh says when he returned the shoes to Eljo's, he was "greeted by a surly [co-owner], Trent Thurston," who told Marsh the wear on the shoes was due to his "manner of walking."
Thurston agrees with that recollection, except for the "surly" part. He recalls Marsh as angry from the get-go. Thurston also confirmed to me that the wear on the shoes appeared to result from the fact that Marsh apparently drags his feet when he walks. "I'll bet all his shoes are like that," he says.
For his part, Marsh admits he got angry during his visit, but only in reaction to Thurston.
A number of phone calls and emails followed.
It was, however, Marsh's question in his email to Alden whether Eljo's had actually returned the shoes that Thurston saw as a particularly offensive attack on his integrity, and the last straw. Thurston sent Marsh a sarcastic and insulting email, instructing Marsh not to write any more and saying, "Nothing we could do at this point would satisfy you as a customer, so we are letting you go as a customer."
Thurston says Eljo's prides itself on its reputation and customer service. He claims he tried hard to resolve Marsh's problem, but that Marsh was unreasonable and could not be satisfied.
Thurston adds that Marsh "is the only customer he has ever fired."
Needless to say, much of this conflict stems from a simple miscommunication.
After Alden refused to replace the shoes, Thurston offered to have them repaired locally, at his expense, but Marsh declined because, as I subsequently discovered, he did not understand Eljo's would pay for the repairs.
Marsh says such a resolution would be acceptable to him, provided the repairs meet the standards one would expect for such expensive shoes. But given the amount of money he paid for these shoes and the speed with which they appear to have failed, Marsh still chafes at Alden's refusal to fix them.
Alden's vice president, Bob Clark, told me Marsh's shoes were "the subject of some discussion here," adding he recalls both "not much wear" and a "wear pattern that was consistent with the way the man walks."
Clark added, "If there's doubt, we'll resolve it in the customer's favor. There was no doubt in this case."
If Alden footwear can survive the Temple of Doom, shouldn't it be able to handle Marsh's gait, whatever it is, for more than a couple of strolls on the Downtown Mall?
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