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Walking Ads Misinterpreted, Jeweler Says

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Schwarzschild Jewelers' recent liquidation sale featured walking billboards that took some Richmonders back in time — to the minstrel period.

Wearing white gloves, top hats and tails reminiscent of the early 1900s, black men waved to post-holiday shoppers perusing Carytown and Midlothian Turnpike near Chesterfield Towne Center in recent weeks. The sale, which started in November, ended this past weekend. But not before offending a few people.

"Damn, what is he doing?" responded state NAACP head King Salim Khalfani, when shown a picture of the sandwich-board walker in Carytown. "It just harkens one back to the Step'n Fetchit, 'Amos 'n Andy,' Al Jolson kind of stuff … an era that we don't need to be reminded of. It's very bothersome to me."

It wasn't intentional, says Susan Morgan, a spokeswoman for Schwarzschild, which has been purchased by a consortium of three companies based in North Carolina. The new owners wanted to liquidate the inventory and start fresh, she says.

On Martin Luther King Jr. day, Jan. 15, the black man bedecked in gloves and tails standing in front of the Shell gas station at the intersection of Huguenot Road and Midlothian Turnpike said he didn't think anything of wearing the costume.

"It's just a job," said James, who gave only his first name. As for appearing, to some, to be in "blackface" costume, James just shrugged. "I didn't think about it until you mentioned it," he told a reporter.

The outdoor advertising for the liquidation sale was handled by Main Street Promotions of Greenville, N.C., which hired the sandwich-board walkers. Main Street President Billy Dunn says the firm selected white and black workers and dressed them to appear as a "higher class because it's a higher-class jewelry store."

Unfortunately, in Richmond higher class once included having black men in servitude. For that, Dunn says the company sincerely apologizes. "We didn't mean anything by it," he says. S

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