Business owners band together

4 mins read

Social media storm sets off protest against
popular local website, owner

By Justin Jarrett

A backlash that began with a Facebook post developed into a firestorm embroiling the owner of a popular local website last week.

A group of local business owners and supporters organized a protest in downtown Beaufort on Friday, Aug. 17, calling for a boycott of Eat Sleep Play Beaufort and owner Gene Brancho, whom some of the protesters accuse of intimidating business practices and objectionable behavior.

In the days following the protest, the Eat Sleep Play Beaufort Facebook page that had garnered more than 70,000 followers went offline. The website remains active but has not had a new posting since Aug. 14.

Brancho, who was briefly contracted by The Island News to oversee social media, declined to comment for this story.

Numerous local business owners past and present shared their experiences in social media comments last week, alleging Brancho failed to deliver services for which he was paid and threatened and harassed them. 

“He took $1,600 from me, and I say took because he did not deliver the services he promised verbally, along with intimidation tactics that nobody in this town deserves,” said Amanda Patel, former owner of Kalon and Company women’s clothing store.

It was Patel’s post on Facebook that prompted an avalanche of comments as others who claim they were victimized came forward. LeeAnn Logan, owner of Exclusively Yours, also said she successfully sued Brancho for most of the $1,150 she paid him for marketing services she says were not provided.

The response culminated with a peaceful protest downtown as business owners who said Brancho had taken advantage of them were joined by supporters to raise awareness. A second protest included the group Bikers Against Bullies.

I’m here to support the local business owners who have been taken advantage of and been victims of this unethical behavior by Eat Sleep Play Beaufort,” said Kelly Chelten, owner of the Lowcountry Spotlight marketing service and a former employee of Brancho’s. “I myself have been harassed by (Brancho), so I’m here for support, and we’re going to try to make a change and bring back the beauty of Beaufort.”

Others say Brancho’s misgivings go beyond business. Lily and Lou owner Alyssa Johnson says she is owed hundreds of dollars worth of advertising she has not received, and she says Brancho often visits her store and makes her feel uncomfortable.

“He targets people that he knows he can take advantage of, and he tries to catch them at their weakest moments,” Johnson said. “He just needs to stop. … He’s a predator. He targets female owners.” 

Photo at top: About a dozen victims, business owners and supporters on Friday, Aug. 17,  held a protest march in the downtown Beaufort area claiming to be fighting back against Eat Sleep Play Beaufort, alleging poor and intimidating business practices. Tempers flared when someone complained about ESPB on Facebook, causing a firestorm of complaints and allegations aimed toward the popular website. Here, protesters make their way down Bay Street trying to convince visitors and downtown businesses to boycott the website. Photo by Bob Sofaly.

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