BOONE — A social media post by a co-owner of Boone Saloon on April 14 led to an uproar by community members and the subsequent removal from his position.
The social media post appeared on Instagram around 5 p.m. with a photo of a sticker that read “I ask for consent” that had been placed on a piece of Boone Saloon property. The sticker had accompanying hashtags that said “I ask” and “SAAM” — for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The caption of the post read, “This sticker on our machine with no consent. Get the irony?” The caption was followed with hashtags such as “no one’s perfect,” “relax,” “let’s drank,” “I ask,” “get the irony” and “SAAM.”
Many commented to say they found the post disrespectful and to be making light of or mocking serious issues such as consent and sexual assault. More than 150 comments were made on the initial post, with a few accusing Boone Saloon co-owner Skip Sinanian of sexually harassing customers in the past.
The post was taken down by the following morning. However, screenshots of the deleted post continued to circulate on social media throughout the following days. Sinanian took responsibility for the post in an apology issued on social media around 2:30 p.m. on April 15 and said he was “wholly apologetic.” Boone Saloon issued another social media post on April 18 announcing that Sinanian had been removed from his position as an owner and manager of the business effective immediately.
“The post does not reflect Boone Saloon or our incredible staff who now have to deal with my stupidity,” Sinanian said in the April 15 post. “Through this post I unintentionally undermined victims of sexual assault, but in no way was that the intention of the post. I am truly sorry to all.” Sinanian went on to say that upon reflecting on some comments made on social media, “I see that I have made people upset over the years.”
“I apologize to those that I have hurt,” Sinanian’s post said. “I will use this as an opportunity to become a better person.”
On April 18, Sinanian declined to comment on the allegations made on social media. He said he did want to say that he had made mistakes and wanted to apologize.
Many pointed out that Boone Saloon had been listed as one of eight establishments that attended a two-hour interactive training on March 26 with OASIS — a nonprofit that serves survivors of domestic and sexual violence. The training invited local bar owners and staff members to discuss topics such as what is a red flag when it comes to harassment or an assault, what a red flag may look like and the spectrum of red flag behaviors (ranging from invading people’s personal space all the way to sexual assault).
OASIS issued a statement on the Boone Saloon post on April 15. OASIS stated that the use of the sticker paired with the hashtags in the Boone Saloon post “devalues the experiences of survivors, and contributes to a culture of misogyny and violence.”
“This post was tasteless and offensive,” OASIS stated in the post. “Sexual assault is not a punchline.”
“We were heartened by the outpouring of community members who took time to share their experiences and disappointments with this post,” OASIS stated in its post. “We know that we can change cultural norms that support violence through open and honest dialogue. We encourage our community members to patronize businesses who truly support anti-violence work.”
The post drew reactions from other business leaders and community groups as well.
The Boone Area Cyclists issued a social media post on April 15, stating it exists to develop an inclusive community and that the relationship it had with Boone Saloon does not honor its commitment to its inclusive mission and purpose.
“We believe women, and we stand in solidarity with them,” BAC stated in the post. “We denounce misogyny in all its forms. We will work with future venues who support anti-violence work and are committed to ensure a safe and respectful environment for our members and community to gather.”
Seth Sullivan — a co-owner of The Cardinal who has been active with the OASIS bar staff intervention training efforts — said he believed that listening to the victims of sexual harassment and assault is what people should focus on. He said elevating the voices of the victims is what Sexual Assault Awareness Month is all about. He added that he was thankful to have been able to benefit from OASIS’s educational resources — both personally and as a business owner along with his staff.
“There’s always room for improvement and I’m striving to be the best I can be in recognizing and responding appropriately to rape culture and sexual assault behavior,” Sullivan said. “I’m grateful to be a partner with all members of the Boone community committed to continuing to improve in this area as well.”
The April 18 social media post by Boone Saloon was made by Kelly DuPree, Sinanian’s wife. DuPree said she was an owner of the establishment and now sole general manager. She said that the business is in the process of having Sinanian removed from the corporation, and planned to start the process on April 22.
“Recently, my husband and co-owner Skip Sinanian made some severe and inexcusable errors in judgment regarding the topic of sexual harassment and assault — both online and in person. We are utterly ashamed and deeply regret these comments and the hurt caused to our patrons, staff and community,” DuPree said. “These types of behaviors and attitudes are absolutely unacceptable.”
Boone Saloon opened in February 2004 and has since then tried to create an open-door culture welcoming to patrons of all stripes, DuPree said. In the April 18 social media post, DuPree stated that sexual harassment and assault has absolutely no place in the establishment.
“The safety and wellbeing of our patrons and employees is the Boone Saloon’s greatest concern,” DuPree said. “As a business owner, it is my legal responsibility, but more importantly, it is my desire to maintain a workplace free of unwelcome sexual conduct.”
Four Boone Saloon members attended the March 26 training and five staff members attended the OASIS community member active bystander training on April 16, according to DuPree. Moving forward, DuPree said the business will take advantage of all training opportunities.
“We as a staff are committed to the agenda put forth by OASIS, and fully support their mission to educate local service industry professionals on issues surrounding sexual harassment and assault in bars and restaurants,” DuPree said. “We hope very much that the High Country community will support the Boone Saloon family as we continue to take corrective actions and work hard to regain the community’s trust.”