English-only at store stokes controversy

Bookshop limits employees near Yale University

Most people interviewed outside the Atticus Bookstore disagreed with the English-only policy. Most people interviewed outside the Atticus Bookstore disagreed with the English-only policy. (Bob Child/Associated Press)
By John Christoffersen
Associated Press / January 23, 2010

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NEW HAVEN - A popular bookstore and cafe near Yale University wants its many Hispanic employees to speak only English around customers, sparking controversy in immigrant-friendly New Haven.

Atticus Bookstore and Cafe recently issued a policy stating that English should be the only language spoken on the floor and behind the counter. According to New Haven Workers Association, a group of activists who said employees gave them a copy, the policy states: “Spanish is allowed in the prep area, the dishwasher area, and the lower level. Let’s make our customers feel welcome and comfortable.’’

“I’m really appalled,’’ said Tim Stewart-Winter, a Yale lecturer. “As a New Haven resident and member of the Yale community, I think diversity is a strength of this country.’’

Stewart-Winter said he likes to take out-of-town guests to Atticus, but might not now because of the policy.

Bridget Pierpont, a 40-year-old New Haven resident, said she was texting a friend as she passed Atticus on Thursday suggesting they no longer go to the bookstore because of the language policy. “Frankly, I think that’s part of the charm of this place,’’ Pierpont said. “I think they should absolutely be able to speak Spanish here.’’

Owner Charles Negaro issued a statement saying his business appreciates and accepts all languages and offers free English language classes to employees.

“We encourage the use of English because it’s an appropriate way to be most helpful to our customers,’’ Negaro said. “To continue to provide the best service possible, we try to help those employees who speak English as a second language by helping them improve their use of English.’’ He said that reports about the policy have been inaccurate and that “if these news reports have offended anyone, I am sorry.’’

“Atticus managers and staff are reviewing our policy of appropriate language usage to determine how we can avoid misinterpretations of this kind in the future,’’ the statement said.

Negaro declined to comment beyond the statement.

Most of those interviewed outside the bookstore disagreed with the policy. But Peter Indorf, who owns a jewelry store nearby, defended Negaro. “He’s a solid member of the community,’’ Indorf said. “He’s entitled to do what he wants.’’

Yale Law School has been fighting for immigrant rights, filing lawsuits over immigration raids by US authorities.