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Va. hardware store at center of Boy Scout controversy fires employee accused of making anti-gay slur

Nichols Hardware store in Purcellville, Va. (Michael S. Williamson / Washington Post)
Nichols Hardware store in Purcellville, Va. (Michael S. Williamson / Washington Post)
By Terrence Mccoy Washington Post

A historic hardware store in Purcellville, Virginia, announced Tuesday morning it has fired an employee accused of using an anti-gay slur while kicking out a teenage Boy Scout seeking donations for a service project.

“The Nichols Hardware family regrets that this even has come to pass,” the store said in a Facebook post. “The employee in question has been terminated and his views certainly do not reflect those of the Nichols Hardware.”

The saga has been a subject of public attention since Friday, when another customer summarized the encounter in a Facebook post that quickly gained traction, spawning hundreds of comments.

“He told them, ‘Your organization is not the ‘Boy Scouts’ anymore. We will not support you and you need to leave,’ ” Carlyn Hamilton wrote in her post. Then the employee, she said, turned to her and continued, “You know they let homos in, right? They are not the ‘Boy’ Scouts anymore. We do not support any homos.”

The store manager, who would only identify himself as Glenn, said in an interview Tuesday that this wasn’t the first time the employee had angered customers with his politically charged comments.

“It’s not the first time, OK,” the manager said. “He made political remarks to other people that didn’t sit too well with them.” Months ago, he said, he had told the employee to stop talking to customers like that and thought the problem had been resolved until the incident Friday.

He described the employee as “set in his ways,” and added that he would like to apologize in person to the boy and his father but didn’t know their names or phone numbers. “It was uncalled for,” he said. “My great-grandson is trying to be an Eagle Scout also.”

The father, Chip Thomas, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday. Earlier in the day, he reached out to a Washington Post reporter saying, “We were not aware until midmorning yesterday how big this had gotten.”

On Saturday, a user claiming to be the boy’s father wrote a review of the hardware store on Yelp. “Thrown out!!!” he said. “Can’t believe it. I have shopped here since 1985. Went in with my son to get help with his Eagle Scout project. … The employee started a rant about the scouts being destroyed, allowing girls and homosexuals to join scouting.”

The clash marked another skirmish in the nationwide culture war over the rapid expansion of gay rights in the United States. Few organizations have been more emblematic of this than the Boy Scouts. In 2013, the organization ended its prohibition on openly gay youths, and in 2015 it ended its ban against openly gay scout leaders. Last year, the organization announced that it would accept girls and transgender children who identify as boys.

The moves haven’t been universally popular. Many religious conservatives have seen the Boy Scouts as a pillar of traditional values. This month, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which teaches that gay relationships are immoral, ended its century-long relationship with the organization.

At the center of it all now is Nichols, an anchor of downtown Purcellville, which a local county history organization describes as a “trip back in time.” At the store, handed down through at least three generations of the same family, receipts are handwritten, and the floors are uneven and wood.

It has come to public attention before. It was featured in the documentary, “Nichols: The Last Hardware Store,” and the 2010 death of its owner in a car accident was widely covered. But little in its century of business has compared to the scrutiny focused on it over the past few days.

People have demanded a boycott of the store on social media, and its phones have been deluged with calls.

The store has now moved to quell the firestorm.

“The family, who has been in Loudoun County since 1742, and which expresses tolerance in all areas of life, deeply regrets any disrespect to any organization or person,” it said in its statement Tuesday.

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