Rug redux: Purcell blames customer's recall

"I didn't screw the old bird": That's how Mason Purcell sums up her dispute with 84-year-old Carol Lawson over the terms of a rug sale.

A curious way to describe a customer, perhaps, but since Purcell's store, the Purcell Rug Company on the Downtown Mall, is nearing the end of its second going-out-of-business sale, she may be less concerned these days with the niceties. (The store went out of business the first time in 2002; Purcell explains away any possible confusion by saying that while the earlier store was strictly wholesale, the current store is retail.)

The dispute began when Lawson bought a rug on the evening of Friday, October 7. She was worried that the rug would be too large, and claims the salesman, Gene Nance, told her she could "bring it back and get a smaller one" if that proved true.

The rug was indeed too large, and she returned it on Sunday, October 9. Lawson says she asked Purcell whether she could just get her check back instead of exchanging the rug for a smaller one, since so little time had elapsed. Purcell, she claims, replied that because it was Sunday, all checks were locked up, but that she would destroy the check without cashing it.

Lawson thought that was the end of the transaction– but then, around November 10, she got her bank statement and learned that her check for $491.40 had been cashed on October 12. She called to complain and says Purcell said that "they never refund money;" only exchanges were allowed.

Lawson, however, no longer wanted to spend that kind of money– close to $500– on a rug she no longer wanted. A friend offered to call on her behalf, and Purcell told him that if Lawson bought another rug, she would refund the difference.

Lawson returned on November 17, chose a rug that cost $150– "The smallest one I could find." With pad and tax, the total came to $165.90. In exchange, she got a check for $287.70. When her son, Frank, examined the two sales receipts, however, he realized that there was a $37.80 discrepancy: $287.70 + $165.90=$453.60, not $491.40. He called The Hook to recount his mother's experience, and I began my investigation.

Purcell was quick to blame the problem on Lawson's age: "She's an old lady, and her memory is slightly addled," she stated. "I dealt with her extremely honorably." Purcell emphasized that there are "four enormous signs" throughout the store that spell out the no-refunds policy and state that exchanges are allowed for only 48 hours; after that, all sales are final. Her decision to refund the difference, she claimed, was something she'd never done before.

Purcell ascribed the purported $37.80 discrepancy to the price of the original pad and explained that because pads are custom-cut, they cannot be returned. Lawson says that in that case, the pad– which she claims she returned with the first rug– should have been given back to her. Purcell counters that Lawson didn't return the pad.

Purcell scanned the two receipts (October 7 and November 17) and sent them along with a letter restating her position. Underneath Lawson's signature on both, the following is stamped: "Sales are final. Exchange for purchase price within 48 hours only. No exchange after Dec. 31, 2005." Lawson, of course, claims that Purcell told her on October 9, when she returned the rug, that she could simply cancel the transaction; Purcell, with equal conviction, says she didn't.

"I didn't have to give her five cents," Purcell told me, before stating that she certainly wasn't going to refund Lawson $37.80 for the elusive pad. The next day, however, Purcell's husband, John, surprised Lawson by calling to announce that if she wanted to return the second rug, they would refund her money. Lawson plans to take him up on his offer.

The Purcells plan to close the doors for good on December 31 and be out by February 1, at which point a clothing store is scheduled to take over the space.

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