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The new protesters defying Trump: His customers
Morrie Gold is not a placard-waving political protester. He is a 69-year-old retired doctor in Pennsylvania.
But he recently participated in a quiet act of rebellion: He and 11 golfing buddies canceled their annual trip to a Florida resort owned by Donald Trump to express their disgust with his remarks about women, immigrants and minorities.
“For me,” Gold said, “it’s an ethical statement.”
Political demonstrations are alien to Margaret Riordan, too. “I’m just an old, white lady from Illinois,” she said. But when friends invited the 60-year-old and her husband to dinner inside Chicago’s Trump International Hotel and Tower, a one-woman boycott was born.
“Pick another place,” Riordan firmly told her friends. “By crossing that threshold, I’m saying Donald Trump’s OK. I won’t do that.”
The reservation was canceled.
Across the country, voters alarmed by the tenor of Trump’s campaign and the emerging accounts of his personal conduct are engaging in spontaneous, unorganized and inconspicuous acts of protest that take direct aim at perhaps his most prized possession: his brand name.
In more than two dozen interviews, they described creative methods of punishing his economic empire and expunging the once-esteemed reminders of him from their lives, closets, golf bags and bookshelves over the past few months. They have thrown out — or cut up — Trump ties, called off stays at Trump hotels, even stopped imbibing Trump wines.
Gary Berry, a military veteran and Gold Star father whose son died while serving in the Army, used to love Trump’s sparkling wines. He bought the ornate bottles, stamped with the candidate’s heavily serifed surname, near his hometown, Charlottesville, Virginia, for special occasions like the birth of a grandchild and wedding anniversaries.
That stopped the moment Trump mocked the parents of Capt. Humayun Khan, an Army captain who was killed in Iraq.
“I am sorry, that’s just not what you do,” Berry said from inside a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall, where he was chatting with fellow veterans. “Trump is despicable in my mind. I’m not buying Trump anymore.”
Independent acts: Organized, noisy demonstrations are a fixture of election seasons, and they have bedeviled both Trump and Hillary Clinton throughout the presidential campaign. But the scattered retail rebukes of Trump are something new: independent acts of protest by everyday consumers who feel that voting against Trump would not be a sufficient reproach.
They are animated, they said, not just by his inflammatory statements or allegations of predatory behavior toward women — which he has denied — but by the belief that the wealth that powers his candidacy was in many ways amassed on their backs, one best-selling book, dress shirt or hotel stay at a time.
“There’s never been a presidential candidate that’s had a product that I had bought before,” said Nadav Ullman, 26, an entrepreneur who has a standing coffee meeting with his business partner in the food court of Trump Tower in Manhattan.
Or at least he used to. As Trump marched toward the Republican nomination, Nadav was startled by what he saw as Trump’s strategy of “bigotry and racism.” He moved his weekly meeting outside to a bench in Central Park, grabbing coffee from a Wafels & Dinges vendor on the sidewalk.
“It kind of came down to the idea that going to Trump Tower — in a very small way, no doubt, but in some capacity — would support him,” Ullman said.
Besides, he added, the coffee at Trump Tower was never very good. “It was a win on multiple levels,” he said.
Impact: It is difficult to measure the economic impact of such protests on Trump’s far-flung businesses. His holdings are privately controlled, and he has a well-documented history of exaggerating his financial performance. Amanda Miller, vice president of marketing for the Trump Organization, said in a statement on Sunday that the Trump brand “remains incredibly strong, and we are seeing tremendous success across business units.”
The nonstop exposure provided by the presidential campaign has its upsides: Sales at Trump’s winery in Charlottesville are up 55 percent, said Kerry Woolard, its general manager. A few customers have headed there straight from his political rallies, she said.
But there are signs of a strain: An online travel company, Hipmunk, has found that bookings for Trump hotels on its site fell 58 percent during the first half of 2016, compared with the same period a year ago. Eric Danziger, chief executive of Trump Hotels, said that data from sites like Hipmunk “does not provide an accurate representation of our performance.”
In interviews, though, several small-business owners said they were avoiding Trump hotels. Elonide Semmes, president of a Chicago branding company, has turned her anger at Trump into company policy: Expenses incurred at Trump properties shall not be reimbursed.
“The one thing you can do is vote with your feet,” she said.
Employees at Art&Motion, a New York agency that represents commercial photographers and illustrators, have done the same. They used to routinely book rooms at Trump hotels in New York and Chicago. But in response to what they saw as Trump’s factual distortions and ignorance of global affairs, the firm’s partners gave their travel agent a firm decree: “Don’t even think of booking us at Trump hotels,” recalled Billy Diesel, a co-founder.
“It’s a small amount of money, but it’s a way to make our voices heard,” Diesel said.
The amount of money is not always small. Before they rebooked at a rival golf resort nearby, Gold and his friends had planned to spend about $18,000 on a multiday stay at Trump’s Doral golf resort in Miami. They had played there for about 14 years, he said, long before Trump purchased and upgraded the property in 2012. “It’s a beautiful place,” Gold said with a sigh.
Growing: The rejection has extended to brands controlled by Trump’s children, whom these consumers see as aiding and abetting the candidate that they increasingly revile.
A few weeks ago, Natalie Davis, 50, bought a navy blue sundress from an Ivanka Trump line of clothing at Lord & Taylor in Manhattan. “It fit me really nicely,” she said.
But soon after, she heard Donald Trump grimly and inaccurately describe the economic and social status of African-Americans: “You’re living in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs,” he said.
Davis, who lives in New Jersey, was appalled. “The way he talked about black people — it’s like we are not human,” she said.
Ivanka Trump had not uttered the offending words, but Davis had watched her speak for her father at the Republican National Convention. That was enough.
“I feel,” Davis said, “like she’s a puppet to her dad.”
Retailers: Davis marched back into Lord & Taylor, handed a cashier her perfectly fitting sundress and asked for a refund.
Ryan Whitacre said he was simply following company policy at a Marshalls clothing store in central Ohio when he asked a woman why she was returning an Ivanka Trump shirt this summer. “She told me she didn’t want to support that name,” he recalled.
“They want to get that name away from them as much as they can,” Whitacre added.
The campaign spotlight is not all bad for Ivanka Trump’s brands: The pink dress she wore at the convention quickly sold out, her aides said.
For some seething voters, returning Trump products is no longer feasible: They sit, well worn, inside their closets and dressers.
So they are taking creative measures.
After hearing Donald Trump rail against the loss of American manufacturing jobs to lower-paid foreign workers, Brian Betteridge, 33, a teacher outside Philadelphia, checked the label on his Trump Signature Collection button-down dress shirt.
“Made in Indonesia,” it read, according to Betteridge.
“I tossed it right into the garbage,” he said. “At that point, it represented all of these things about him that I could not stand.”
The shirt had been a gift from his grandmother. “I haven’t told her,” he said.