After TikTok video on faux Coach purse at Humboldt Park vintage store goes viral, store owners fear for their safety

·7 min read

Candace Behrens was out shopping with her mom on Mother’s Day, doing what she loves to do — support local, small businesses — when a black Coach bag in a women’s vintage store caught her eye.

A collector of Coach purses, she purchased the bag on a whim from The Fox Club, a swimsuit, lingerie, clothing and accessories store in Humboldt Park, before rushing to meet family at her home for a Mother’s Day celebration.

It wasn’t until after everyone had left that the Milwaukee native opened her shopping bag and realized what she had actually purchased.

“I looked at the purse and in two seconds I knew it was fake,” Behrens said.

What happened next on that May 8th day has become a viral sensation on TikTok, leading to countless death threats against the store owners, and even their dogs. The Fox Club has shuttered its doors, and locked down their social media accounts. Yelp is now monitoring the store’s flood of negative reviews “for content related to media reports.”

“People have been reaching out on our cellphones, our work landline voicemail, personal emails, my business email, every Instagram account we’ve ever had — threatening us saying that they’re going to come burn the store down,” said designer Lizzie Cook, a co-founder of The Fox Club. “It’s traumatizing. Death threats to kill our dogs, threats that if they ever see our faces, there’s going to be consequences, that Humboldt Park doesn’t want us there. Thousands of these messages.”

In the rapid-fire world of social media, the power of a cellphone recording can have a profound ripple effect on brands, culture and the human psyche, say experts on social media.

“There’s always going to be this back and forth — is it the customer who went too far by recording it, was it the business owner that went too far by maybe not embracing customer service the way they should have. It’s hard to say,” said Scott Kleinberg, Pittsburgh-based social media expert and former Chicago Tribune social media editor. “It’s just this giant domino effect ... that one video that lasts two minutes leads to all this stuff happening later.”

It all started when Behrens and her husband returned to the store on Mother’s Day, with Behrens’ husband recording the interaction on a cellphone.

“Hi. I understand you don’t have a return policy. We’re recording this for my social media,” Behrens says as she approaches a store associate seated behind the counter. “I have a large following.”

As Behrens begins to explain why she is there, the store’s other co-founder, Chanel Marshall, moves into the frame and interrupts Behrens.

“I wish you would have asked me before purchasing, I would have told you that it’s not real Coach,” Marshall says in the video. “We would have priced it way higher if it was.”

“But this is like a vintage store,” Behrens says before Marshall cuts her off again.

“We’re a vintage store, not a thrift store,” Marshall says.

Behrens points out that the purse was “priced accordingly” to the value of a real Coach purse.

“I’m super sorry that you’re unstoked about the Poshmark prices, but we do a lot of research on our pricing,” Marshall says.

Behrens then says she’s going to give the purse back because it is “fake” and “not worth anything,” to which Marshall laughs.

“I was just supporting a local neighborhood store,” Behrens says.

“And I appreciate it,” Marshall replies before repeating that she wished Behrens had asked if the purse was real.

Behrens posted the 1 minute and 44 second unedited video to her @candyland44chi TikTok channel the same day and it snowballed into hundreds of thousands of views and thousands of comments online.

“It was very condescending,” Behrens said of the interaction at the store. “When I saw that, that was very antagonizing to me. I posted on TikTok to tell people this was my experience. I had no idea that video would go viral. But I think it went viral because people of color, they have empathy for what I went through and they understand what it’s like shopping when your money is good, but the owner of the store or the workers at the store, they don’t necessarily want your service and so you get treated poorly.”

Steve Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago & Northern Illinois, said the organization is now investigating The Fox Club after receiving four complaints since Behrens posted the video.

“In essence, this is a questionable business practice by this organization,” Bernas said. “If you can say two things to consumers that are most important here, they are: It’s important to check out the company with the Better Business Bureau and more importantly, let the Better Business Bureau know about issues.”

Meanwhile, Cook and Marshall say they tried to apologize to Behrens personally, and have refunded her the money for the purse and other purchases she made that day.

Marshall admits she did not handle the situation well, saying that being recorded “caught her off guard.”

“I didn’t handle the customer very kindly,” Marshall said. “I was very frustrated with her as you can see in the video. I think the camera just caught me off guard and my employee who was there.”

Cook said the pair are so shaken they don’t know what to do when it comes to reopening their store, which they opened in 2019.

“I just really want people to know that we love what we do,” Cook said. “I think this was not a prime example of our customer service. But I do think people have bad days. And aren’t always at their best. And in this case, didn’t have anything to do with race, just had to do with a bad day, bad timing and a camera in the face.”

“It’s been a very scary time for us,” Marshall said about the backlash. “It’s not something that is great for our mental health to continue to see nor our potential physical health.”

Marshall said the incident “wasn’t an act of racism,” but “an act of burnout.”

“It was very bad customer service and we are working toward figuring out how we can reposition our roles as a shop to where it’s a lot less stressful for us and in turn much better on the customer.”

While Behrens says there are no excuses, she also said the death threats against The Fox Club owners go too far.

“That’s absolutely horrible,” Behrens said. “No one should be threatened over a fake purse. That’s not what I wanted from the video. I just wanted them to be exposed as people who are selling counterfeit bags.”

The experience didn’t turn out all bad for Behrens. The Coach brand reached out to to her and sent a gift of a real Coach purse after the incident. Behrens posted the opening of the new purse on her TikTok channel, too.

“At Coach, it’s always our goal to bring joy to people and, in the best cases, make them smile,” Coach said in a statement. “Our teams saw an opportunity to brighten someone’s day and made it happen. For us, that’s the best of what our brand can be: an opportunity for connection.”

Cook and Marshall said they are unsure of their next steps.

Ashlee Humphreys, an associate professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism who specializes in social media and consumer behavior, said it will likely be a slow process for the store to rebound.

“If I were going to advise the brand, I would say anything they can do to make up with the public would be money well spent,” she said. “Restitution needs to be made socially, as a social gift ... when you’re dealing with a social thing like this, the restitution is more often given to a broader ambiguous set of people and not necessarily directly. Some brands that have done this donate to charities, or set up other kinds of things.”

Behrens said she would like The Fox Club to put their apology on their website and their social media.

“If you can’t treat the people who shop at your store with respect and not be condescending — and you can’t blame it on having a bad day — then you probably don’t need to be at that store and running the store,” Behrens said. “The video went viral because so many people of color could put themselves in my shoes and they know that feeling of being talked down to. It’s not my job to teach you how to respect me. It is on you to seek that knowledge.”