Florida Keys News
Saturday, July 6, 2013
Tourist claims gouging
Store already paid one fine

A Duval Street store recently cited for breaking city code laws is already back under code enforcement review after a tourist complained she was ripped off.

City of Key West Code Enforcement fined Vine Vera, 102 Duval St., $500 on June 26 along with a $4,500 suspended fine with the stipulation that the store would be forced to pay that larger amount if they violated again within 24 months, said Code Compliance Manager Jim Young.

Four days later, tourist Cathy Ann Kromm, Baltimore, Md., filed a police report accusing three store employees overcharged her $547 for facial creams, according to a code enforcement report.

Officers described the incident as a civil matter and no criminal charges have been filed.

Kromm declined to comment when reached by phone in Maryland.

In the report, though, Kromm said Vine Vera manager Anni Cohen was standing in front of the store and told her about some free samples while two other male employees came out and "escorted" her inside, reports say.

While inside, the men described various facial creams ranging from $1,500 to $3,000 while also describing their 80 percent discount and providing her with "free samples," the report states.

"Kromm said everything was confusing," the report states. "Kromm didn't realize the cost would be $547 for the service they provided and the product she bought. Kromm said she didn't realize until she left the store how much they charged on her credit card."

Officers also noted that employees of a nearby art gallery told them, "People complain all the time about that store and they were not surprised about the incident," the report states.

In an email response to The Citizen, store manager Cohen said the owner told her there was never any complaint from the customer.

"He tried to contact the lady that filed the report to offer her a refund, as well as see what went wrong because she seemed to be happy when she left and she did pay willingly for the products," Cohen wrote. "He says she didn't know what he was talking about. She is from Baltimore and wasn't in Key West."

Attempts to identify and reach the owner independently of Cohen were not successful. The store's name did not come up on the state's corporations database.

Kromm's complaint drew the interest of Young, who is now scheduling a second code hearing before code enforcement judge, Jeff Overby.

"There's been about four of these facial creme stores pop up on Duval Street overnight and I contacted the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and I was told if it was just facial creme, it's not considered cosmetology and these business don't need a state (cosmetology) license, is what I was told," Young said. "I spoke to (Kromm) and she is willing to come back to Key West to testify at the code hearing."

Young likened Kromm's complaint to the practices of some T-shirt shop owners and employees in the early 2000s when the city cracked down on the businesses overcharging customers for customized T-shirts.

A city ordinance requires all shop workers to give customers written estimates of how much a custom T-shirt will cost before charging them.

"These type of cases give the city a black eye and hurts honest merchants," Young said. "As soon as we started receiving complaints we took action. I know other merchants told her to contact police."

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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