Paula Rinelli still isn’t quite sure why she didn’t immediately turn around and go back when she realized she had mistakenly shoplifted from the retailing co-op she’s been a satisfied member of for 45 years.
Her best guess is that her mind was elsewhere — specifically, with a sister in Kenosha who had recently suffered a stroke and would die within a matter of weeks.
That explanation, however, didn’t appear good enough for the Willy Street Co-op — even though she’d purchased other items during that same trip to its North Side Madison store and returned four days later to pay for the one she’d accidentally boosted.
Rinelli, 73, of Madison, contacted SOS in the hopes of convincing the co-op to overturn the ban it imposed on her in a letter she said she received June 4, six days after she went to the store to pick up a bottle of a Wishgarden-brand herbal sleep aid she had put on hold.
“This product really works without significant side effects,” she wrote in a July 7 letter to the co-op, and “I needed a good night’s sleep,” as she was going down to visit her ailing sister the next day.
Rinelli said she picked up the bottle, which retails for about $20, from the wellness clerk and put it in her pocket because she thought it would get lost in or fall between the slats of the shopping cart. Then she did the rest of her shopping, checked out and while in the parking lot reached into her pocket and found she hadn’t paid for the sleep aid.
“I really don’t clearly remember why I did not turn around and go back into the store to pay for it,” she wrote the co-op. “I was distraught, worrying about my sister and tomorrow, and for some reason I did not go back in. It was a mistake and I am deeply sorry for that.”
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To her credit, Rinelli returned to the store June 2 — or before she got the letter banning her — explained what had happened, and paid for the product.
Rinelli said she spoke with Willy Street general manager Anya Firszt on June 5 to appeal the ban and that Firszt told her she needed to discuss the matter further with her staff.
Then Rinelli heard nothing; nor did she get a response to her July 7 letter.
SOS left messages Wednesday and Thursday with Willy Street communications director Brendon Smith, and on Thursday Firszt left a voice message with Rinelli in which she said co-op officials had already discussed the ban and “we just failed to call you to say we will in fact lift the ban.”
“We realize you made a good faith effort to come into the store to make it right,” she said.
In an interview with SOS Friday, Firszt said it was “just a terrible oversight” not to have called Rinelli earlier.
Rinelli said she is “extremely ecstatic” to have her co-op excommunication overturned.