Is Hollister’s Bedbug Problem Really Solved?

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Photo: Courtesy of Hollister

The Soho Hollister store reopened on Saturday after closing for two days to treat a bedbug infestation. The Abercrombie at the Seaport that was recently discovered to be infested was just closed; they've told WWD they hope to reopen tomorrow. But is that really enough time to treat the problem? It's hard to say. Bedbug expert Timothy Wong, the technical director of M&M Environmental who worked with Moving Right Along to help treat Hollister's merchandise and is intimately familiar with the case, says that the clothes are fine after undergoing fumigation in an off-site warehouse — that process is foolproof (and smellproof — you'd never know the clothes had been treated, Wong says). However, bedbugs like to burrow into electrical outlets and lay eggs there, so the structure of the building has to be treated separately. Wong wasn't involved in that process, but explained that his company's process for treating building structures typically takes seven to ten days. So maybe Hollister is vermin-free, maybe not. But considering the scope of this problem and the highly transient nature of bedbugs, all shoppers should be careful now. Wong explained more about how to stay bug-free this summer shopping season.

On a scale of one to ten, how bad would you say the Hollister case is?
Probably a ten. I only say ten because you have to be in such a bad situation to actually force you to close a store to lose millions of dollars before Fourth of July weekend. It’s got to be one really bad scenario. You can only imagine the amount of decisions that went into the decision to actually do that. This is the nightmare being realized.

You were involved in treating the merchandise. Are the same bedbug clothes now back on the shelves?
The moving company had 100 men go there over two days and moved everything into the truck, and had to move everything off-site to be fumigated with gas. A separate company went in to treat the store. Then they put the clothes back in the store.

How concerned should people who shopped there be about bringing bedbugs home?
We had over 100 different calls on Friday alone from people who had shopped at Hollister. There’s no way to know if they brought any bedbugs home or not. So what we do is have our canine go over to their house to inspect to see if they had any bedbugs at home. I can tell you right now that we did an awful lot of inspections. For a majority of them, people were fine. There were a few people who actually had the bedbugs. Usually it’s difficult to bring bedbugs home.

We also just learned that Abercrombie on the Seaport has bedbugs, too. What does that say about the problem?
The worst-case scenario is one of their warehouses had it. And if that’s the case, that’s frightening, you know what I mean? Because you’re not just talking about a few stores anymore. But I think it’s actually really scary that it's more than one location. They have so many employees at Hollister and we don’t know whether any of them have it at home or not.

Is Abercrombie obligated to pay for bedbug prevention and treatment of their employees' homes?
It’s hard to say, because there’s so many issues involved. I think there are going to be lawsuits because they neglected the problem for a while. Morally, ethically, are they obligated? I think probably. Legally? It’s very difficult legally because you can never prove who brought it to where.

Should we be worried about bedbugs traveling to neighboring retailers?
We had an awful lot of stores that we did inspections for. I think neighbors in the building have more of a risk than neighboring buildings. It’s difficult to say whether the commercial offices above Hollister have it or not. The people who shop at Hollister most likely shop at other stores as well. So a lot of stores nearby have been calling and scheduling inspections.

What should you do if you shop in Hollister or a nearby store?
The things we’re telling all our employees and all our clients is you should put everything you buy in the dryer oh high heat for twenty minutes, which kills both the bedbugs and bedbug eggs.

What about things that can't go in the dryer?
Clothes that you can’t put in the dryer, you can use a steamer to try to clean it because the high temperature can also kill bedbugs and bedbug eggs. Even using an iron very thoroughly, or send it off for dry cleaning. You have to tell them — a true dry cleaner, by washing the clothing in high heat, will kill the bedbugs. That’s such a burden for a lot of people. One of the things people like to do is go shopping, especially in the summer. It kind of takes the fun out of shopping now. It’s really sad.