LEGL 4500/6500 - Employment Law

Dawn D. Bennett-Alexander, Esq.

Terry College of Business

University of Georgia

Happy Feet

Lauren Adams DeLeon


Got any Bally shoes? Are they comfortable? We hope so, because Black people were buying so many that the company decided to stop selling them in Black and Asian neighborhoods. After all, what would Mr. White Man, contentedly stepping along in his Ballys from an upscale store, think if every few feet, if you will, he saw a Black kid in the same shoes?

The story leaked through a group of White salesmen suing Bally on charges of age discrimination. "Sneakers and the trampers. They were sueded casual shoes with rubber soles that the kids were buying, about $175 a pair. (Bally never allowed dress shoes to in the Ďhood.) They didnít want to be in business or self to those type of people," says a former West Coast salesman. A former East Coast salesman says his area, including Harlem, was the profit center for the companyís U.S. sales.

Although the company waffled a bit, its people have been surprisingly straightforward. "There is a point when you say enough is enough, when you want to protect the brand name image," says president Merle Sloss, in a deposition.

"Young fellow comes in and wants the Bally shoes," says Harlem retailer Kevin McGill, who sold hundreds of pairs of the expensive shoes before the representative suddenly stopped selling to him. "To these kids, image is everything. For some of them, itís all they have."

Funny he should use that world. A Bally executive describes Black and Asian accounts as "image problems." Another spoke of loss of exclusivity. Describing what happens when high-end items become too popular with Black folks, he says: "You donít mean anything to anyone anymore."

Emerge Magazine, March 1997

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Dawn D. Bennett-Alexander