A historic hardware store in Purcellville, Virginia, is at the center of a community controversy over allegations that one of its employees used an anti-gay slur after refusing to help a Boy Scout asking for donations for a service project.
The alleged incident happened Friday afternoon at Nichols Hardware, a family-owned store that was founded more than 100 years ago and is a “trip back in time,” according to a Loudoun County, Virginia, history organization.
After the boy and his father were turned away, Carlyn Hamilton, who was finishing up her purchase, said the employee turned to her and said, “You know they let homos in, right?” He was referring to the Boy Scouts.
“And he said, ‘We do not support homos around here, I can tell you that,’ ” Hamilton said Sunday.
When contacted Sunday by The Washington Post, a manager at Nichols who would identify himself only as Glenn called the allegation “hearsay.” He said he would talk to the employee Monday.
“I won’t put up with it,” he said. “If it turns out to be true, he will be terminated.”
Neither the boy nor his father, both of whom remain unidentified, could be reached for comment. However, a user purporting to be the boy’s father posted a comment on Yelp.
“Thrown out!!!” wrote the reviewer. “Can’t believe it. I have shopped here since 1985. Went in with my son to get help with his Eagle Scout project. . . . The employee started a rant about the scouts being destroyed, allowing girls and homosexuals to join scouting.”
The allegations marked another clash in what has become a nationwide culture war over the Boy Scouts of America’s rapid expansion of rights to gay members. In 2013, the organization ended its prohibition on openly gay youths, and in 2015, it ended its ban against openly gay scout leaders. Last year, the organization announced that it would accept transgender children who identify as boys.
The group also announced last year that it would welcome girls for the first time. Beginning in February, it will be known as Scouts BSA.
The moves were unpopular among some religious conservatives, many of whom had viewed the Boy Scouts as a paragon of traditional values. Earlier this month, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which teaches that gay relationships are immoral, ended its century-long relationship with the organization.
Hamilton said she always tries to support local businesses, so when she needed grass seed and mouse traps on Friday, she headed to the community landmark. Throughout the decades — and a 2010 tragedy, when its owner and his wife were killed in a car crash — Nichols has maintained much of the aesthetic it had when it opened in 1914. The floors are uneven and wooden, and receipts are still written by hand.
Hamilton said she was waiting for her receipt when the bell at the door chimed, and the teen entered the store with his father.
“I noticed how handsome he looked,” she said. “Well-pressed Boy Scout uniform. He looked very proud, and maybe a little nervous.”
He asked the three men behind the counter for help with his project. Immediately, one of them told him, ” ‘Absolutely not,’ ” Hamilton said. ” ‘There is no such thing as the Boy Scouts anymore.’ ”
The boy froze, she said, uncertain.
“And he was like: ‘Did you hear me? We don’t support your organization. You allow in gays.’ ”
The employee pointed at the door, she said, and the boy lowered his head. “Thank you for your time,” the boy said.
“It broke my heart,” Hamilton said.
Then she got mad. She went onto Facebook and wrote a lengthy recap of what had happened. “How dare you demean an innocent child?” she wrote. “SHAME on you Nichols!”
The post immediately caught fire, igniting more than 300 comments and calls for a boycott.
“Time for all those old guys to retire,” one woman wrote.
“Absolutely disgusting!” another woman wrote. “Never getting my business. Probably racists too.”
Others, however, felt differently.
“You never intended to go there, you dumb snowflake,” someone else shot back. “You people just look for drama.”
The store’s manager said he was worried about what the drama might mean for the store.
“It’s costing us business,” he said. But he said there was no way he would know what was happening online. “I don’t use the Internet,” he said. “I don’t know how to use the Internet.”