UPDATE: After kicking Max Konnor out of their store on Saturday, The Leather Man store has responded to allegations of racism. In a statement posted to Instagram that describes the accusations as "rumors and misinformation," the leather and kink retailer spoke to its long history of inclusion through a pre-Stonewall era and beyond.
"We are deeply saddened that the specific interation in question was, in any fashion, construed to have any racial overtones," they wrote in the statement. "This was a matter of implementing a shop policy with regard to custom work and alterations, and the disagreement was in no way based on the individuals being men of color."
In OUT's initial report below, neither Konnor nor his designer Maxfield Haynes found issue with the store not being able to fulfill the order. Instead, they found being asked to leave the store later when they were calling a car to be the problem. When reached by phone, representatives for the store were "regretful" but forwarded OUT to a company spokesperson who was not available for additional comment at the time of publishing.
"We do utilize a buzzer system during busy times to allow our sales staff to adequately serve oru customers individual needs, and it was not the case that any specific customers were ever locked out of the premises," they continued, referring to allegations that after Konnor and Haynes left the store it was locked behind them. "We regret that any cusotmer would leave the store with such feelings but we hope that our five decade commitment to progressive social values represents The Leatherman's commitment to being a welcoming place for all."
ORIGINAL: Adult performer Max Konnor went to The Leather Man store in New York City Saturday afternoon to commission a custom leather top to wear at the upcoming GayVN Awards in January. After the visit, and a confrontation with the store’s owner, he was asked to leave the space for what he would later call “racism, full force” in a post to Twitter. According to the owner though, the debacle was “a simple case of disrespect being shown to store employees.”
Guys, I just experienced racism full force. The owner of @LeatherManNYC just kicked me out after coming in trying to get an outfit made for the @GayVN awards. Please let them know that this behavior will not stand. Do not support this company. Send them a message. pic.twitter.com/DaGpZTpJJT
— MAX KONNOR (@maxkonnorxxx) December 8, 2018
Konnor said he and his designer, Maxfield Haynes, went to the iconic leather and fetish store to see if its leather maker could fabricate designs for an upcoming appearance at the GayVN awards. Konnor is nominated for the GayVN Performer of the Year Award as well as Best Duo Sex Scene, and Best Group Sex Scene.
The two first approached store employee Scott Jordan, who told them the leather maker was busy, Konnor told OUT. “He showed us some things while we waited until the leather maker was ready,” Konnor said.
When the leather maker German Torres, became available about ten minutes later, Konnor and Haynes presented him with sketches. They say they were told that while the design was possible, the owner of the store, Chuck Mueller, would probably not allow the look to be made because of the time it would take to create. In an interview, Jordan confirmed their account.
“That’s [Chuck’s] thing,” Jordan said. “He says, ‘I can’t just have people come in and do things on the spot; I pay German, [the leather maker,] a salary, blah, blah, blah.’ So German says to [Max], ‘I would have to take a shirt apart and all that, so by the time it was all done it would be $1,500. It would be better for you to go another place.’”
Everyone interviewed for this story said that was fine. Konnor and Haynes returned to the first floor of the two-level space and continued to look around.
“I was still very interested in the other products they were selling,” Konnor said. He and Haynes, who is also a professional ballet dancer, continued to shop. When they were done looking around, they pulled out their phones to call a car. “That’s when the owner comes up to me and says, ‘we really don’t have time to watch people that aren’t going to buy anything,’” Konnor said.
According to both Konnor and Haynes, Konnor responded, “Well you don’t have to watch me, we don’t need your help.” After a moment, according to Konnor, Mueller then raised his voice: “He says, ‘I don’t care about all of that, you need to get out of my store.’”
When reached for comment about this story by phone Saturday, Mueller requested an in-person interview. During that scheduled interview on Sunday, the store owner and founder referred to the incident as a “simple case of disrespect being shown to store employees,” alleging that Konnor and “three others” “caused a ruckus.” After, Mueller refused to be a part of an on-the-record interview with audio recording.
No one else interviewed for this story could corroborate there being two others besides Haynes and Konnor.
Konnor said he and Haynes immediately left the store and the employees locked the door behind them, hours before the scheduled close.
“There were about 10 other people in the store,” said Haynes, who had been to the store before with no issue but had never interacted with the owner. Mueller and Jordan confirmed that the store was busy that day. “Everyone [on the first floor] left with us when they saw what happened. All of the staff that worked there were so respectful, it was just what happened with the owner that was negative.”
He and Konnor, say they were the only two Black customers. “That’s why I said it was racist,” Konnor said. “We were the only two black people in the store and we were the only ones asked to leave.”
Jordan pushed back on that assumption. “The problem is that [Chuck] is old and he doesn’t want phones here,” he said. “When they came upstairs he asked them not to use their phones because people come in and take photos and stuff and never buy anything. They said something to him and that just set him off.
“It wasn’t a matter of race,” Jordan continued. “If they were white, he would have done the same thing; it’s his age.” Both Konnor and Haynes said that no one asked them to put their phones away during their visit to the store.
“It’s upsetting because I’m dealing with an elderly man who thinks everyone should put their phones away,” Jordan said. “That’s the gist of the whole thing! We try to keep him in the back because we’re losing money because he’s scaring people away.”
According to Konnor, Haynes and Jordan, Jordan came outside to apologize after the incident. On social media, Konnor is asking for a boycott of the establishment.