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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Abercrombie & Itch

The Wall Street Journal
Retailer Asks Mayor for Help in Bedbug Battle

Abercrombie & Fitch has found bedbugs in a second Manhattan store, leading the company's head to implore Mayor Michael Bloomberg for help.

The retailer closed its South Street Seaport location Friday, two days after shuttering its Hollister Epic store in SoHo.

In a letter to Mr. Bloomberg, Abercrombie Chairman and CEO Michael S. Jeffries asked for "leadership and guidance" on how best to address the problem of "the growing infestation of bedbugs in New York City."

"We made the decision to act with caution by closing both stores to assure we have rid them of the problem. There is a real revenue loss involved in our decision but we felt closing was in the best interest of our customers and associates," the letter said.

City officials said there was little they could do. "It is the responsibility of companies to handle bedbugs on their own," said a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The company, known for clothing popular among teenagers, said the Hollister store would reopen Saturday and that its bedbug problem has been "eliminated."

"The Company's first priority continues to be its customers and associates," Eric Cerny, manager for investor relations, said in a statement. "The Company's Abercrombie & Fitch Fifth Avenue store has been tested and is not affected."

The company said it believes that the issue is isolated to its Lower Manhattan stores, said Mr. Cerny.

He said customers would be allowed to return purchases to the stores, where products will be properly quarantined before being sent back to Abercrombie & Fitch headquarters in New Albany, Ohio.

Meanwhile, the 24 Hour Fitness gym that shares a building with the Hollister store remained open.

A 24 Hour Fitness spokesman said the gym is aware of the neighboring business's bedbugs, but "to date, we have not experienced any problem as a result of the issue."

The club has ordered an "additional inspection by our vendor, and preventative measures will be provided if necessary," the spokesman said.

Exterminators say bedbug infestations in commercial locations are on the rise, and that some buildings are making regular, preventative appointments with bug-sniffing dogs. Beagles, Labrador Retrievers and Jack Russell terriers are among the most popular bug-busting breeds.

"Some offices are being more proactive and calling us in to do routine checks," said Charles Turk of K9 Bed Bug Detective in West Orange, N.J.

To sniff out an office, Mr. Turk and his Beagle, Russell, go after-hours and when there are no distractions. Russell works only five or six hours a day, with breaks, before his sniffer becomes fatigued.

Most commercial spaces don't have a formal policy on how to handle a bedbug outbreak or complaints by an employee or by the public. Bedbug lawsuits are a growing area of practice for Marc Miner, a lawyer for Zalman & Schnurman in Manhattan. Mr. Miner says that when an issue isn't resolved, employees will sometimes turn to the state's Occupational Safety and Health Administration and file a complaint.

"In my experience there are very, very few places that have a protocol for bedbugs," he said. "Often people come to us because they have a post traumatic reaction to it. For some people, the post traumatic stress is the worst part."