The theme this week is broken promises. To illustrate, I have two consumer tales; one ended well and the other one didn't. First, the success story, which began with an email message from bluegrass fan Leo Daugherty.
"For about 10 years," he wrote, "I've been looking for cassettes or CDs by a bluegrass band called 'Double-Decker String Band.' I knew they existed, or had once existed, 'cause I heard them on NPR years ago. [Spencer's 206] tried to help, everybody tried to help, but no soap. Finally, they showed up on the internet in response to one of my monthly searches as being recording artists for a company called Marimac in Crown Point, Indiana."
Daugherty emailed Marimac and was elated to learn, in a reply from Gayle MacBride, that Marimac was selling three of the band's releases. On January 24 he sent a check for $33.95 for all three, and eagerly awaited their arrival— in vain.
On February 20 he emailed MacBride to ask about the delay, but there was no reply. Five days later he tried again, but MacBride still wouldn't respond. His next email, on March 1, was to me.
"This is probably the first time in my life," he wrote, "(and I'm in my 60s) that I've been bilked— apparently— in such a manner. I would much like to go through my entire life as a virgin on this score, and thus I turn to you. What do you think I should do?"
I thought we should try the old "What Happens If a Reporter Calls" strategy, except this time it was the old "What Happens If a Reporter Emails." This time, MacBride promptly replied, saying, "I humbly apologize that you have waited so long. I have located your order and will ship it out today. I moved my office and several orders got into the wrong pile, yours among them." Uh-huh. Did his emails get mislaid as well?
When the package arrived, MacBride, in a nice touch, had included an extra cassette as a peace offering. So— although it took a reporter's intervention— this tale ends well.
Not so with Patrick Grant and Petra. When I originally wrote about their situation [Fearless Consumer: "Down Memory Lane," 3/7/02], I named neither the restaurant nor the consumer because I was so busy crying into my hanky: The restaurant had suddenly closed in early January, and even though that left Grant with a worthless $75 gift certificate, I saw no point in throwing salt on the owners' open wounds.
On February 25 I had called owner Eric Garcia's wife (who was also his co-owner); I still don't know what her name is, and she's not exactly forthcoming on that topic. Although it was a terse conversation, I was relieved to learn that money had been put aside to cover outstanding gift certificates. All she needed was the name of the person who'd written the check for the certificate. I called Grant's wife, Marilyn, to relay the good news and assumed I wouldn't hear anymore.
But I did. On March 15 Marilyn emailed me to say that although she'd called the Garcias as instructed, nothing had happened. When a message on the couple's answering machine brought no action, I tried again on March 19.
This time I got a very different story. "It's been turned over to the attorney and the bank," she informed me— as if this were obvious— "and will be taken care of when the funds are freed up." I pointed out that that wasn't what she'd told me in February, which caused her to turn nasty: "You need to not call our house again," she snarled, "or I'll call the police."
The only wisdom I can extract from this sorry business is that one shouldn't invest in gift certificates from new, trendy, and possibly transient restaurants. As for Daugherty's debacle, I suspect he would have gotten a response eventually— especially if one of those emails had employed the old "I Intend to Refer This Matter to My Attorney" strategy.
Do you have a consumer problem or question? E-mail the Fearless Consumer at firstname.lastname@example.org or write her at 100 Second Street NW, 22902.