Bamboozled: Corner didn’t give square deal

Waiting for a special order delivery is pretty common. Six weeks. Eight weeks. Even 10 weeks.BB branding

But 24 weeks?

There’s something wrong in Cranford. And now there are several criminal investigations, all because of a batch of undelivered high school varsity letterman jackets.

Zachary Fried, a Cranford High School sophomore, swims for his school, and for the 2009-2010 season, the 16-year-old received a varsity letter for his accomplishments.

“He worked hard to earn a place on the varsity team,” said his mother Abbe Fried. “He’s very proud of it. His older brother also had a varsity jacket, and that’s why he wanted one.”

On Oct. 25, Abbe Fried took the letter to a local business, Cranford Corner, and she placed an order for her son’s varsity jacket.

Cranford Corner, which carries a host of items emblazoned with town logos, had just reopened that month after a fire shut its doors for 2½ years. And now there were new owners: Peter and Patti Baker, according to news reports of the reopening.

41111Fried said she gave owner Peter Baker a deposit check for $160 — about half the jacket’s cost — and Baker said the jacket would take eight to 10 weeks to come in.

The check was cashed on Nov. 1.

Weeks passed, and Fried contacted the store to check on the order. Baker said the sales representative for the jacket company was mistaken about the delivery time, and it would take 12 to 14 weeks instead, she said.

Patience runs out

The excuses snowballed over the next month, Fried said.

According to Fried, first Baker said it would be one more week. Then he promised her son a free item from the spring inventory to make up for the delay. Then the jacket had come in, but it was sent to the embroiderer to have the name added and the letter sewn on.

Then in early February, no one answered the phone at the store.

The message said: “Hi and thanks for calling Cranford Corner. Unfortunately the store is closed and will be closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 1 and 2, due to a continuing serious family medical situation, and we will be reopening Thursday, Feb. 3 at 10 a.m. and at that time we will resume our regular business hours.”

(That message was still on the answering machine last week when Bamboozled called.)

That week, Fried said she visited the store.

“Mr. Baker said he was having trouble reaching the embroiderer and was going to the shop to get jackets back,” she said. “I was told that I was going to get my deposit back and would only have to pay half for the jacket.”

Fried said she called the next day, but no one answered.

The next week, Fried said she talked to Baker again.

“Mr. Baker says the embroiderer is nowhere to be found and he will be contacting (the school) to get new letters and that the jacket company is going to rush-ship a new set of jackets,” she said. “I was told that I was going to get the jacket free.”

And that was the last Fried heard, she said, despite more calls and e-mails requesting either the jacket or a refund and the return of her son’s varsity letter.

“Many excuses later, now April 4, and still no jacket or refund,” Abbe Fried said.

Fried started asking around town. She said she spoke to other families who reported the same predicament. They said they gave deposits and their athlete’s letters to Cranford Corner months ago, but they’ve received nothing in return. Fried even found an online message board filled with similar complaints about the business.

News of the trouble got to the school’s athletic director, Mike Taglieri. He announced at the high school’s winter sports award ceremony that the school would provide new letters to any player who placed an unfulfilled order with Cranford Corner.

Fried also called the Cranford Chamber of Commerce, and she said an executive told her the group had requested Baker resign from his post as vice president last month because it received several complaints about Cranford Corner. The chamber confirmed to Bamboozled that Baker did resign, but it would not discuss the reason.

Taglieri confirmed to Bamboozled that he’s already given “probably eight or nine” replacement letters to athletes who placed orders with the store.

What’s the deal?

We tried to track Baker down.

Messages left at the store were not returned, so we called Baker’s cell phone. He answered, but said he couldn’t talk, and he’d be happy to answer our questions the following day.

So the following day, we tried again. And again. And again.

In all, Bamboozled left a dozen messages and sent several e-mails. No response.

Let’s give the benefit of the doubt for a moment. Special orders can take longer than expected at times, especially when an outside vendor is used for part of the job.

The Fried order was placed on Oct. 25. Even if it took 14 weeks, it should have arrived around the end of January.

But then the embroiderer seemed to disappear, and Baker said he was contacting the school for more letters?

Taglieri, the school’s athletic director, told Bamboozled his office was never contacted by Cranford Corner for additional letters.

Even if the Bakers did have some kind of medical emergency, per the store’s answering machine message, it’s been 24 weeks since the order was placed.

Twenty-four weeks.

Abbe Fried said she’s sorry if they’re having difficulties, but Baker still made promise after promise, and now Zachary Fried is out a letter and a varsity jacket, and his mom is out $160.

“When (athletic director Taglieri) said, ‘Oh, I’ve heard about these other families,’ I was like, this is fraud. This is not an unfortunate misunderstanding or a delay. This is a scam.”

That remains to be seen.

“There are four active investigations into reports of fraud and/or bad checks issued by the owner of the Cranford Corner,” said Cranford Detective Sgt. Gerard Quinn.

Checks that were meant to be refunds for a few customers have bounced.

Over varsity letter jackets, it has to come to this?

Come on, Cranford Corner, these customers came to support your business in the weeks when the store reopened. If you’re unable to fill the orders, can’t you at least give them their money back?