Dear Ace, Who’s watching the store? No, I mean literally. Is there a consumer protection officer in the city or county?—Connie Summer Rapport
Connie: Let Ace guess: The dry cleaners couldn’t get mustard out of a silk shirt. Or maybe the cashier laughed at you for accidentally ordering a Big Mac at Burger King? Thrift store jeans split within a day of purchase? Well never fear, because there are actually two consumer protection organizations that have your back. But in terms of a single, dedicated Charlottesvillian or Albemarlian pulling a Ralph Nader on area businesses? No such luck.
Be your own Ralph Nader: If some business is jerkin’ you around, your best bet is to march down there yourself and give ’em hell.
Marion Horsley, spokesperson for the Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs, explains: “There’s not anybody specifically assigned to Charlottesville or Albemarle. If consumers have a problem, they can call in and talk to a telephone counselor or download a form at our website (http://vdacs.virginia.gov), fill it out, sign it and send it in.” The office also offers mediation services, but they can help out on the legal end too if you can’t reach a mutually agreeable resolution as to whether or not that crack was already there when you bought that table. The Office of Consumer Affairs doesn’t file any suits itself, but it can get the attention of the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office for you and have them carry your issue forward.
If you want to take your concerns into the private sector, it’s a similar story. The Better Business Bureau has a Central Virginia office over in Richmond, but there’s nobody specifically designated to cover Charlottesville. As with the Office of Consumer Affairs, the BBB helps out consumers who have gotten the short shrift and can provide information as to whether a charity is on the up-and-up. Neither organization has a physical office in Charlottesville.
So no, Connie, there’s no consumer protection officer assigned to our area, but there are governmental and private resources available to the slighted local consumer. But unless you’ve got a major complaint or want to check on how legit a charity or business is before dealing with it, your best bet is probably just to march down to whatever store is bugging you and let ’em have it. Horsley says of her office, “We do recommend that you do address your own complaint personally if possible. You’re the one who’s going to be buying or not buying from that company again.” Makes sense to Ace.