For Barry Zeldes, the first inkling of trouble came half an hour after he opened his Brentwood men's clothing store on July 10--a regular customer phoned to berate him and say he was "ashamed" of him.
Shortly afterward, another man walked into the store, Z 90049, and began screaming at Zeldes, concluding that the store owner should be shot.
And that was only the beginning.
In the nearly two weeks since Zeldes' summer clearance advertisement appeared, announcing "These are cutthroat days," the 43-year-old merchant has been bombarded with complaints and two death threats from people who believe that Zeldes tried to turn the notorious slayings of Ronald Lyle Goldman, who was stabbed repeatedly, and Nicole Brown Simpson, who was slashed across the throat, into ad fodder.
"It's been ballistic," said Zeldes, who said that his ad, 59,000 copies of which were inserted in that day's Times and other papers, has nothing to do with the June 12 killings for which O.J. Simpson, Nicole Brown Simpson's former husband, will stand trial. "I spend half the day explaining myself."
What Zeldes, who opened Z 90049 2 1/2 years ago, explains to people is that the ad was conceived in January, printed in May and sent to a distribution center later that month.
Zeldes has also tried to impress upon the angry and curious that Goldman, who had worked for him as a model, was a friend and "a real good soul."
"Anyone who knows me knows my mind doesn't work that way," said Zeldes, who says he attended Goldman's funeral and saw him every day when Goldman worked at the California Pizza Kitchen next to Z 90049 in the Brentwood Gardens mall. "But I'm blowing away a lot of potential customers by appearing as a sick person."
Indeed, that has been precisely the initial reaction of some Brentwood residents.
"I thought, 'Here's someone who's trying to cash in on something very traumatic,' " said Suzanne Chapman, an investment banker who lives near Nicole Brown Simpson's Brentwood condominium. "I was ready to go down to the store and say, 'How dare you?' "
Given that the ad didn't appear until almost a month after the slayings, some wonder why Zeldes didn't pull the ad beforehand. Zeldes said that even when he reviewed the ad just days after the killings with the ad's designer, the notion that it could be connected with the case didn't occur to them.
"The reality is that . . . nobody picked it up," said Zeldes, adding that members of his family also failed to pick up on any link. "Nobody thought about it until we got the first call."
Chapman said: "If I were him, I would definitely circulate a new flyer and apologize. It behooves him to send out another ad."
Zeldes, who said his summer sale failed to attract many customers, would just like to take the whole thing back. "I never in my wildest dreams would benefit from anything so tragic," he said. "I would have pulled it in two seconds had I known what pain this (would have) caused."