Company won't replace defective sofa or refund money
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A gift from a sister to a brother has become a months-long problem for both of them.
Judith Cohen of Martinez, Ga., invited her brother, Lee Grotstein of Pittsburgh, for a visit in September 2010. While he was there, they went shopping for a sofa and love seat for his one-bedroom apartment in Squirrel Hill.
They found a snazzy, striped gray sofa trimmed in black with two matching pillows. A salesman gave them the name and phone number of the manufacturer, Homeline Furniture. Mrs. Cohen called and was told the sofa could be ordered from Designer Furniture Warehouse in Washington, Pa. Because her brother is mentally retarded, Mrs. Cohen handled all the details of the purchase.
She said a DFW salesman said Homeline Furniture provided a lifetime warranty on the foundation, five years on the springs and one year on the cushions and material.
In September, Step by Step, a private nonprofit agency that provides staff support 24 hours a day to Mr. Grotstein, noticed that a spring had come through one of the seat cushions and deemed it a hazard.
Mrs. Cohen said DFW told her that the sofa would be repaired to Mr. Grotstein's satisfaction or he could select another sofa or be reimbursed for the defective sofa so that he and his sister could buy another one. The salesman said the manufacturer had gone out of business.
Mrs. Cohen said DFW sent someone to look at the sofa, but no repairs were made. "My brother's safety continued to be jeopardized, especially if he came to the sofa in the middle of the night and attempted to sit on it. He would have gotten injured."
A strong advocate for her brother, Mrs. Cohen had an unsatisfactory exchange of words with a man in DFW's office in Columbus, Ohio. When she said she would contact the media to resolve the problem, the man hung up on her.
On Nov. 30, two months after she notified DFW about the problem, a repairman arrived at her brother's apartment and sewed the torn fabric. She said a Step by Step employee told her the repairman "did not fix the sagging foundation or the lumpy fabric."
"This was a beautiful sofa that was only 1 year old," she said. "My brother is miserable. He wants a new sofa. It is not our fault that the manufacturer went out of business. We want the sofa removed by DFW so that Lee either can pick out a sofa to his liking at DFW or be given $500 -- the approximate cost of the hazardous sofa -- so he can pick one out at another store."
Before contacting DFW, I went to Mr. Grotstein's apartment, spoke with him and Shawn Johnson, a Step by Step supervisor, and examined the sofa. The stitching of the fabric was anything but neat and straight, probably because the repairman apparently had to keep pulling the material together as he sewed it shut. There was no problem with the love seat.
Mr. Grotstein, 61, a pleasant man with a room-warming smile, weighs 215 pounds. I jokingly asked him if he ever jumped up and down on the sofa. "Never," he said. "I don't know why the spring broke, but I do know I need a new sofa."
After several attempts to reach a spokesman at DFW's main offices in Columbus, I received a call Tuesday morning from Matt Walker, a DFW district manager who oversees the operation of the Washington, Pa., store as well as those in Pleasant Hills and Wexford, two in Ohio and one in West Virginia.
"I sold them that sofa," he said. "It was a special order. It's not our fault that the manufacturer went out of business. Unfortunately, those things happen, especially in this economy. I don't know why the spring broke. I don't think abuse is the issue."
He said DFW can't return the purchase price of the sofa to Mrs. Cohen because it cannot recover any money from the defunct manufacturer. He did, however, make this offer:
"I checked with [DFW's] owners and they are willing to sell Mr. Grotstein a new sofa at a substantial discount," he said. "I think that's fair."
Mrs. Cohen rejected the offer outright. She cited DFW's delay in responding to her repeated phone calls and its earlier promises to "make things right."
First Published February 16, 2012 4:53 am