Editorial: Dave Ratner made a big mistake, but deserves a break

  • President Donald Trump shows an executive order on health care that he signed in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Oct. 12, in Washington. Dave Ratner, owner of the Dave’s Soda & Pet City chain, is second from left behind Trump. AP file photo

Monday, October 23, 2017

Dave Ratner, the man who combined pet supplies and soft drinks to build a successful chain of Valley stores, made a mistake by going to the White House last week. He’s acknowledged as much in the wake of powerful blowback on social media, where critics are threatening to punish him by shopping elsewhere.

People are entitled to vote with their wallets. But in this case, the protest risks becoming a mob and inflicting serious financial losses on a local business, its owner and employees. That strikes us as a punishment disproportionate to the blunder.

Ratner admits that he didn’t do his homework when he accepted an invitation to represent the National Retail Federation at a White House ceremony Oct. 12 where President Donald Trump signed an executive order on health care. Ratner says he believed it would only reverse a single provision of the Affordable Care Act, a change that would allow small businesses like his to band together and purchase group health insurance, making it more affordable for employees.

However, Trump’s executive order was far broader in making it easier, as it states, for “more small businesses to avoid many of the (ACA’s) costly requirements.” Without specifics, that concerns critics who believe it is Trump’s first step in unraveling Obamacare by executive order after Congress has refused to repeal and replace it.

Ratner was very visible in a photo distributed by the Associated Press, standing behind a grinning Trump as he held up the executive order. It didn’t take long for the shock waves to roll through the Valley. Many took to social media to slam Ratner for allying himself with Trump and call for a boycott of Dave’s Soda & Pet City stores.

A day later, Ratner described himself as “just sick” when he realized he had not understood the extent of Trump’s order, and now stood at the center of a local firestorm. He continued to beat himself up last weekend.

“You may have seen a picture of me at the White House Thursday while President Trump signed his executive order on health care. I want to say strongly and clearly: I do not support this executive order,” Ratner wrote Oct. 14 in a letter to the Gazette and other news organizations.

“I had no absolutely no clue he was adding all the onerous changes … I was duped, I am an idiot. It is bad for this region, our residents and our health care nonprofits,” Ratner wrote. “I apologize to my employees, our customers and the community for being at the signing ceremony.”

Ratner posted a similar statement on Facebook: “I am sorry went to the Whitehouse because I don’t want it to appear that I support Trump ripping apart Obama Care. I do not. I had NO idea Trump was adding all the awful changes to the executive order. I NEVER WOULD HAVE ATTENDED IF I KNEW.”

Now that’s some serious groveling. Unlike many public figures who defend bad decisions to a fare-thee-well, Ratner took his public drubbing and then did some self-drubbing. Surely, that should be enough to satisfy the angry hordes. But Ratner’s nervous.

On Oct. 15, Ratner told the Boston Globe, after experiencing “the worst two days of my life,” that “It was 42 years of building a wonderful brand and having it destroyed in one day.”

Happily, the tone of the reaction shifted this week, as more people used social media and letters to the editor to express sympathy for Ratner, who says he voted for Hillary Clinton last year. A woman from Leverett wrote that while she wants to obstruct “Trump’s horrific agenda … boycotting Dave’s, a good, local business, is anger and energy misdirected.”

We agree. While there is no excuse for a successful businessman like Ratner getting himself into this predicament, we accept his apology and so should his customers. It’s time to move on from a very public mistake by a man who started his business in 1975 by selling soda in the bay of an empty gasoline station and since has established a solid record in the communities where his stores operate: Hadley, Northampton, Ware, Agawam, Ludlow, Springfield and Stafford Springs, Connecticut.

A longtime supporter of charitable causes, especially those benefiting pets, Ratner says, “I have never brought politics into my business, but I have always tried to operate in a way that makes our community a better place.”

That’s the track record that Ratner deserves to be judged by, instead of one misguided trip to the White House.