Wellington sewing supplies store closes after customers abuse staff, throw stock at them

A Lower Hutt retailer has closed its doors after its adherence to the Government's COVID-19 regulations led to abuse from customers, resulting in "stress and mental anguish" for staff.

Petone-based sewing supplies company The Sewing Depot announced in a social media post last week it's taking its business online in an effort to protect its staff from badly behaved patrons.

At COVID-19 alert level 2, which currently applies to all regions outside of Auckland, retail businesses can open - but must encourage staff and customers to adhere to regulations such as physical distancing, mask-wearing, record-keeping and contact-tracing.

However owner Ana Warnock said since shifting down alert levels earlier in September, staff had been subjected to "snarky comments and unrealistic demands for stock". She said they had also been called rude names and, on one occasion, had stock thrown at them.

"We have also heard similar stories from other retailers, so it's not just us," she wrote in a Facebook post.

"We understand that these are challenging times but these restrictions have been put in place by the government, not us, so we cannot tolerate people taking it out on us. 

"The stress and mental anguish from your actions directed at us are not healthy.

"We are terribly sorry to those of you who are wonderful supporters, you shouldn't have to be exposed to this. Some of you have even tried to step in and help us in some of these awful situations, but at some point, for our own wellbeing, we have to draw the line."

Warnock said The Sewing Depot would still be open for business online or by appointment for click and collect, machine demos and servicing, browsing and thread colour matching during this time.

But she said the store wouldn't open physically to customers until "we are able to return to some sort of normality".

"Please don't turn up and find us closed and then abuse us, this is why we have closed the door," Warnock continued.

The Sewing Depot, based in Petone, will now be available online and by appointment only.
The Sewing Depot, based in Petone, will now be available online and by appointment only. Photo credit: Facebook / The Sewing Depot

"We are passionate about providing the best customer service and expert knowledge and love interacting with you all, but we just need to take this time to look after ourselves… We know change is hard, but I'm sure you will learn to love our online presence like the rest of NZ. 

"Thank you in advance for your understanding."

Abuse of retail staff has become a hot-button issue during the COVID-19 pandemic. Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford said staff had been receiving "significant levels of abuse from customers" at higher alert levels.

"Retail NZ has seen a big upsurge in unpleasantness, aggression and abuse towards retail staff as the pandemic wears on," he said in a press release earlier this month.

"Everyone who works in retail is doing their best… It's never acceptable to harass or abuse [them]."

Retail NZ launched a social media campaign this month encouraging shoppers to wear a mask, noting staff having to ask them to put one on was often a prompt for aggressive behaviour.