Business & Tech

Anger erupts as Zoots customers seek to retrieve garments from shuttered dry cleaner

03zoots - Customers wait in line to retrieve their clothes outside of Zoots Dry Cleaning in Porter Square in Cambridge, Mass., on Feb. 2, 2018. (Margeaux Sippel for the Boston Globe)
Margeaux Sippel for the Boston Globe
Customers waited in line to retrieve their clothes outside of Zoots Dry Cleaning in Porter Square in Cambridge.

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CAMBRIDGE -- One man came in search of a hand-made $2,000 suit, and another a cherished down comforter. One woman was seeking her “gorgeous” Anthropologie dress.

They were among the customers who thronged Zoots Dry Cleaning in Porter Square -- and other local branches -- on Friday for a one-day opportunity to retrieve garments stuck in limbo since the chain filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy two weeks ago.

In Cambridge, many of them left empty-handed -- and angry.

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Braving a chilly wind and temperatures in the 20s, dozens lined up outside the store before it opened at 7 a.m. Some couldn’t stand the cold and took turns waiting in shifts.

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“I’ve been trading off with the rest of my family,” said Jonathan Sailor, who was joined by his mother and father. They walked away hours later empty-handed, their only advice from Zoots to try calling the headquarters in Brockton.

Patty Gibbons offered to pay another customer, Ben Rudick, $50 to stand in line for her and pick up her clothes along with his. Rudick agreed, having already spent hours waiting to retrieve the $2,000 suit, hand-made in Hong Kong, that he wore to his wedding. (Rudick told her to donate the $50 to charity.)

Emotions ran high inside the store as customers approached the counter, staffed by two employees who were doing their best to help. Cheers broke out from the crowd each time someone emerged victorious with a clear plastic bag of clothes slung over a shoulder.

But things took a turn for the worse shortly after noon.

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Colin Smith, one of the first to arrive in the morning, returned to the store after failing earlier to find all of his items. Employees had given him a list of numbers of other stores to call, but Smith claimed those branches all said they had nothing left to give out.

“You’re gonna have a riot on your hands if you don’t start giving us information,” another customer said to an employee, while another threatened to go over the counter and take back their items themselves.

A second employee stepped in. “You’re not gonna be threatening her,” he warned.

After the spat escalated -- and a curse was uttered -- the police were summoned. Officers arrived at 12:25 p.m., but left soon afterward without filing a report.

David Madoff, the private trustee appointed by a branch of the US Department of Justice to the Zoots case, advised any customers who have yet to receive their garments to leave their contact information at the store. He added that Zoots employees “should not be criticized.”

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“We will send around an email to everybody or post on the website a number that they can call.” Madoff said. “We will take care of everybody. We’re doing our best.”

Margeaux Sippell can be reached at margeaux.sippell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @MargeauxSippell.