Dry Cleaner Chain Hit By Hate Crimes

French Cleaners owner Pierre Frik talks on his cell phone in front of his business that was the target of vandels Wednesday, March 19, 2003, in Modesto, Calif. Frik feared if the country went to war in Iraq, he might be targeted by zealots because of his Middle Eastern background. He never imagined he'd be vulnerable because his chain of stores was named French Cleaners AP

Pierre Frik feared if the country went to war in Iraq, he might be targeted by zealots because of his Middle Eastern background.

He never imagined he'd be vulnerable because his chain of stores was named French Cleaners.

The Lebanese native said he only picked the name on a whim, making the Eiffel Tower the stores' logo. But as relations between the United States and France soured over war with Iraq, Frik said he was hit by the backlash.

Customers have spit on checks and passers-by make obscene gestures, he said. On Wednesday, his Modesto store was damaged in a fire. He said he later learned his two other stores had been vandalized.

"We're very concerned about French-bashing going on across the country," French consulate spokesman Yo-Jung Chen said Thursday, in the aftermath of France's threat to block a U.N. resolution authorizing force against Iraq.

Authorities estimated the damage to Frik's Modesto store at $500,000 but declined to classify the blaze as suspicious.

"We're just not there with our investigation yet," said Detective Doug Ridenour. "It does seem unusual. Now we just have to see if it's a crime."

Frik, who became a U.S. citizen after emigrating from Lebanon in 1977, said he's worried about his family - his children and wife help run the stores.

"I had no problem before as a Middle Easterner," Frik said. But when France took its anti-war stance, "it all started."

Police in Turlock are investigating the vandalism at Frik's store as a hate crime - obscenities were scratched on a window, shattering it.

At his Ceres store, pellet holes were found in a window. "We really didn't think anything of it at the time," said Sgt. Brent Smith. "Officers just went out and took a report."


By Brian Skoloff
  • Jarrett Murphy

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