Protest planned over jewelry store's controversial billboard

Spicer-Greene Jewelers rented a billboard that says "Sometimes, it's ok to throw rocks at girls..." The words are written on a white background, surrounded by pictures of colorful gemstones. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) - A North Carolina jewelry store is getting lots of attention over its newest billboard.

Spicer Greene Jewelers rented a billboard that says "Sometimes, it's ok to throw rocks at girls..." The words are written on a white background, surrounded by pictures of colorful gemstones.

The billboard appears over the Jeff Bowen Bridge, visible when driving from Patton Avenue onto I-240 into downtown Asheville.

Pictures of the billboard have been shared dozens of times on social media. Many people say it's harmless, and the message is all about context.

But many others are upset.

Several people contacted News 13 to say they were upset about the billboard.

Ellen Perry is one of them. Perry is a literature and humanities teacher at UNCA and AB Tech. She is planning a protest outside the store on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m.

Perry told News 13 she's supported by the Women's Rights Committee, Stronger Together WNC North, and the Equal Rights Amendment Committee within Indivisible Asheville.

Perry said she will continue to organize protests until the billboard is taken down.

The business posted a statement on Facebook to address the negative feedback on Tuesday afternoon, saying, in part, "We did not intend to cause controversy and our billboard communicated something we did not intend."

The owners of Spicer Greene Jewelers, Eva-Michelle Spicer, 28, and her husband Elliott, 27, started running the business about four years ago when Eva-Michelle's parents started to ease themselves out to do more traveling, Spicer said.

The name changed from Wick & Greene to Spicer Greene last year in August, when the young couple officially took over.

The store has been in operation since 1926 when it was opened by E.O. Wick. It has changed names several times since then, becoming Pick Wick, then Wick & Hancock, then Wick & Greene, and finally Spicer Greene.

"The billboard was intent to be a nostalgic thought of a childhood teaching," Eva-Michelle Spicer said. "That it's not ok to throw rocks at girls, it's not ok to throw rocks at anyone... It saddens me that it was taken that way, because it certainly wasn't intended."

Eva-Michelle is a member of Women for Women, a Western North Carolina organization that aims to "improve the lives of women and girls through women’s collective giving."

She said she held a fundraiser for Our Voice in November of last year because she believes in their mission and staunchly against domestic violence. That event gave 10% of sales from a women-designed jewelry trunk show to Our Voice.

This is not the first time the company has been criticized for its billboards. Since Elliott and Eva-Michelle began running day-to-day operations four years ago, they've created several billboards that have gotten attention--most of it positive, Elliott said, but some of it negative.

The company posted a billboard (see photo gallery) of a mannequin "painting over" an existing billboard with the message, "Sam, will you marry me?"

The Spicers said they specifically chose a gender-neutral name because they wanted the billboard to be inclusive.

During last year's holiday season, they posted a billboard that said "Wise Men Bring Gifts" (see photo gallery).

"Some people said that was sexist and misogynistic," said Eva-Michelle. "I don't understand how you get that out of it."

The idea for the current billboard came from a family aunt during last Thanksgiving dinner while the wise men billboard was up.

"My grandmother laughed about it, we laughed about it," Eva-Michelle said. "We thought, 'OK that's kinda cute and catchy, we'll try it out.' We definitely didn't think it would have this kind of backlash."

Elliott said he's learned a lot through this experience from some people who called to complain.

"I actually had a couple really deep conversations with a few people," he said. "I didn't realize it was a problem until recently. In hindsight it's definitely changed my perspective."

The store has secured the contract for that particular billboard, and rents it continuously because it is such a high-traffic area.

Elliott Spicer said the billboard is the most expensive in Western North Carolina and gets seen by "250,000 pairs of eyeballs each week."

The store will donate 10% of sales through Sunday to Helpmate because "domestic violence and rape culture is not something to be taken lightly at all," Eva Michelle said.

She said they may push up their 'Summer of Love' campaign due to the backlash. That billboard was supposed to go up in four weeks, but it may go up sooner.

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