A mask display seen as offensive was not intentional, party store says

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An Obama mask on display at Party City in Delran. Customers objected when some Obama masks were at first displayed next to gorilla masks.

The party-store chain whose Delran shop displayed Halloween monkey masks alongside masks of President Obama said Monday that the placement was not meant to be racist and that the masks had been relocated.

Their proximity stirred a controversy after a customer took offense Saturday at the sight of about a half-dozen Obama masks displayed amid three chimpanzee masks and a gorilla mask, and posted a photo of them on Facebook.

"The masks in question were not placed according to any merchandising instructions and were more than likely misplaced by customers trying the masks on," the company said through a public relations firm.

But Darnell Wilson of Pennsauken, who first spotted the display and complained about it, said Monday she is not buying the company's explanation.

"When I complained about it to the store manager I said, 'I don't understand why you would do something like this.' At first she [the manager] said they were in the wrong place, then she said, 'No, our corporate office sends out a display. That's how they're supposed to be displayed.' "

Wilson, 57, recounted that she then said to her 31-year-old daughter, who was with her, 'If corporate is agreeing to this, then this should go a step further,' " and they took a photo of the display that was later posted on Facebook.

A visit to the Party City store shortly before noon Monday revealed several Obama masks hanging on a kiosk near the front of the store alongside masks of presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Only one monkey-type mask appeared to be on display, and it hung on a kiosk at the back of the store alongside masks of fanged, gory monsters.

"We've been getting a lot of calls," said a clerk. She said she had repositioned the masks as soon as Wilson complained.

"It was not intentional," she said, adding that customers sometimes put items back on display in the wrong places. She declined to give her name.

Wilson's photo of the masks showed, however, that the Obama masks were stacked several deep on the display hooks.

The public relations firm representing Party City called the situation "an isolated incident. We apologize if the situation offended anybody," it said in an email, "and can assure that it was corrected immediately by store staff."

The Facebook posting nevertheless generated some ill will for the chain.

"I am disgusted and will NOT be supporting Party City in the future," wrote one reader.

"That's just not right!!" wrote another.

Another wrote: "It will never stop. Ignorance!!"

A few responders defended the chain, however. "Blowing it up," wrote one. "It's a face mask and belongs with the other FACE MASKS!"

"I'm not sure that's intentional," wrote another.

Wilson, who described herself as a manager although not in retail, said she had "never, ever done anything like this, but I was just taken aback.

"It's 2016. President Obama has been in office eight years," she said. "I just felt it said something about the political culture right now."

doreilly@phillynews.com

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