ANDERSONVILLE — The owners of the Brimfield resale shop are facing boycotts and accusations of racism after one of the owners removed pro-Black Lives Matter chalk messages from the sidewalk and called the police on participants of the chalking event.
The event took place Saturday along the Clark Street business corridor in Andersonville. Neighbors and businesses joined up to chalk the streets and sidewalks, writing “Black Lives Matter” and other messages in support of ending systemic racism.
A co-owner of Brimfield, 5219 N. Clark St., removed the chalk drawings outside the store, called police on the demonstrators and verbally sparred with onlookers.
A portion of the incident was captured on video, where Brimfield’s co-owner is seen mopping up the chalk markings and calling the demonstrators “cop haters.”
The run-in has led to calls for a boycott of the shop, plans for demonstrations outside the store and accusations of racism against the husband-and-wife shop owners.
Videos from the incident:
Grace McDonell went to the chalking demonstration with her girlfriend, Natalie Santoro, and friend, Elijah Cox. The group participated in chalking Clark Street, with McDonell writing “silent cops are guilty, too” on the sidewalk outside of Brimfield.
When they walked back by the store around 3 p.m., McDonell and her group noticed the chalked slogan had been removed. The group was confused as to what happened, and McDonell began writing the slogan again.
At that point, the co-owner of Brimfield came out and told them to stop marking the sidewalk and to leave the area, McDonell and the two others told Block Club.
“She kept on insisting that we couldn’t do that,” McDonell said.
After arguing with the group, the shop owner went back inside the store. The group continued marking the sidewalk, adding a statement to not shop at Brimfield because it does not support Black Lives Matter, they said.
Minutes later, the police arrived at the scene.
Police responded to a call of a disturbance involving spray paint Saturday at Brimfield, but officers did not take further action after realizing the markings were in chalk, said a police spokesperson.
McDonell and her group left after being questioned by police. But the owner of Brimfield got into another altercation with demonstrators shortly after.
After police left, employees with Brimfield were seen with buckets and mops, removing the social justice slogans from the sidewalk near the business.
Jaime Schmitz was walking along Clark Street to take in the chalk drawings when she happened on the scene outside Brimfield and began filming. The footage shows Schmitz and the shop’s owner talking, with the owner giving her rationale for removing the chalk markings.
“The people that were here were cop haters, basically,” the woman says on the video. “It’s unfortunate.
“I’m not racist. My husband is Black.”
Eyewitnesses at the incident have identified the woman in the video as Julie Fernstrom, who owns Brimfield with her husband, Jeff, who is not Black.
The video was shared widely on social media, with people chiming in with accusations of racism by the shop owners. Posts from Jeff Fernstrom’s personal Facebook have also gone public.
Videos shared on Jeff Fernstrom’s page refer to Black Lives Matter as a “leftist lie” and describe “systemic racism” as a “myth.”
“It was upsetting, the fact that she called police,” Schmitz said. “I was shocked but, also, not surprised because racist people exist everywhere.”
The Fernstroms did not respond to multiple requests for comment Wednesday. In an Instagram post, the business shared a photo reading “Black Lives Matter” with an apparent apology for the event, saying, “Times are tense, and people can make mistakes. Thankfully we can all learn and grow.”
That post did not sit well with neighbors, who said the business was using Black Lives Matter as a shield to deflect criticism.
“They don’t believe Black lives matter but are using it to save their business,” said Natalie Santoro, McDonell’s girlfriend. “It’s despicable.”
Brimfield has come under fire from neighbors and the Andersonville business community, some of which participated in the chalking event. Two business owners arranged for the chalk demonstration, Lady Gregory’s gave out mac-and-cheese to demonstrators in a show of support, and members of the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce participated.
In a statement, the chamber denounced the actions of Brimfield and said it was considering how to respond.
“We are taking this situation very seriously, and the board is meeting this week to determine next steps,” Sara Dinges, executive director of the chamber, said in a statement.
A protest has also been planned for outside Brimfield. On June 26, neighbors will gather outside the store and bring to light the instances of racism by the store’s owners, said Ami Alison Moss, who is organizing the event and whose husband witnessed the tense moment outside the store.
“I want to disrupt their business,” Moss said. “I want to send a clear message in our neighborhood that this discrimination is not welcome.”
The behavior and beliefs of the business owners is an affront to an Andersonville neighborhood that takes inclusivity and diversity seriously, multiple neighbors said.
“It’s almost as if they’d like to take money from the community without supporting the community,” McDonell said. “It feels great to live in a neighborhood that shows this isn’t OK.”
The Andersonville Chamber of Commerce’s statement on the incident:
The Chamber will continue to support the movements and events in our neighborhood that align with our values as an organization: equality, inclusion, and the raising up of those who have been marginalized and discriminated against for centuries. As we do our own anti-racist work at the Chamber and work to make strategic changes in our organization and community, we will also continue to provide resources to businesses on the very necessary and urgent work around anti-racism, allyship to the transgender/non-binary community, and providing a safe, accessible space for all.”
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