Sheets that shock

Joey Piotrkowski was shopping at his local Grocery Outlet Friday, Jan. 14, and when he came across some sheet sets, he practically went into shock. The Petaluma resident — and son of Holocaust survivors — found two sets of patterned sheets. But no flowers or stripes were decorating these linens. Instead the pattern was made of interlocking yellow Stars of David with the word “Jude” inside them — exactly the same star the Jews were forced to sew onto their clothes during World War II. The stars were made with dotted lines, as if to be cut out and sewn onto clothing.

Piotrkowski asked to see the manager, and he explained to her the significance of the symbol. The manager promptly removed the sheets from the shelves.

But they were back on the shelves the next day when Piotrkowski’s wife, Fran — also the daughter of Holocaust survivors — went to the store. When asked why, the manager said corporate headquarters told her to put them back.

Fran Piotrkowski immediately bought both sets, whose packaging had been sealed when her husband first found them, but had since been opened on the sides. She then called their rabbi, Leah Sudran, of Petaluma’s Congregation B’nai Israel.

Sudran, in turn, called j. weekly and the Jewish Community Relations Council. She was especially alarmed because she had been told that Grocery Outlet had purchased 13,000 sets of sheets from the manufacturer for outlets in eight Western states. However, it is not known how many sheets were printed with the offending pattern.

As it turns out, David Carlson, buyer of general merchandise for the Berkeley-based Grocery Outlet chain, did not fully understand what kind of stars were on the sheets, when he was first told.

“We certainly would never intentionally purchase any product that had offensive symbols on them,” said Carlson, when contacted earlier this week. “It’s not good business, and not good neighborly, and not what we do.”

Carlson further said that he had a hard time believing this could happen since the manufacturing company he buys the sheets from is run by Orthodox Jews in New York. In an e-mail to Piotrkowski that Carlson sent on Wednesday, Jan. 19, he wrote: “Please understand that we deal in closeouts. When we purchase sheet sets at a discount like this, we don’t get to select the individual patterns — we get whatever the mill has leftover.

“We would never have selected this pattern to go in our stores and now that I know it’s there, we will pull it. I will ask our vendor to check which mill this product came from to ensure we do not receive this, or similar patterns in the future.”

The sheets are labeled Nature at Home, a brand manufactured by Sam Salem and Sons, a Manhattan-based company. In two conversations this week, both Sam Salem and his brother-in-law Carey Sutton, co-owners of the business, said they couldn’t believe how this could have happened.

Salem, who said he is not only Orthodox, but is studying for the rabbinate, and was leaving on a trip for Israel later that night, said he “was really shaken up.”

Sutton, too, said he was highly offended when he saw the photo of the fabric.

“This is against me, too,” he said. “I’m having a tough time thinking this came from us, because my cutters and sewers and printers are all Jewish. All the guys working in the factories are Israelis.”

Both Salem and Sutton promised to get to the bottom of the incident. In the meantime, Sudran was going to send one of the sheet sets in question to Salem and Sons, so the manufacturers could see it for themselves.

“We manufacture sheets sets from overstocked and closed out lots,” Sutton explained. “We ask how many yards do you have; we don’t get swatches or choose patterns.” Nonetheless, he said, “We feel terrible about the pain this is causing. We’re Jews too; we’re feeling the same pain.”

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."