Chick-fil-A supporters turn out en masse for “Appreciation Day”
A massive rush on Chick-fil-A stores in the Charleston area Wednesday reflected more than an unusual hunger for chicken sandwiches.
Cars snaked around local stores, the lines spilling out into surrounding streets, as hundreds if not thousands came out to make a statement.
“I believe our Christian values have been under assault for too long, and this gives us an opportunity to respond,” said John Groff of West Ashley, holding up two bags he bought at the Magwood Road store around suppertime.
Store manager Al Thompson said he was amazed at the crowd, which more than doubled his business Wednesday.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said.
Most other local stores got similar crowds.
Chick-fil-A became the new center of the culture wars a couple weeks ago after President Dan Cathy told the Baptist Press that the company was “guilty as charged” for backing “the biblical definition of a family.”
Some public officials suggested that Chick-fil-A might not be welcome in their cities. Student groups around the country, including the College of Charleston, started online petitions opposing plans for new stores on campuses.
Conservatives started rallying after Baptist minister and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee dubbed Wednesday “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.” Most of those in line at local stores Wednesday said that’s why they came out.
“I had chicken for lunch, and my wife hates chicken,” Gary Wilson of James Island said while waiting in the dinner line at the Folly Road Chick-fil-A, where a long line of cars snaked around the building and out of the parking lot onto Camp Road. “My wife wanted something else, but I’m here to support everything that’s going on.”
Lunch crowds were huge at the Tanger Outlet Center in North Charleston. Bill Myers of West Ashley said he made a point to eat there to show his support. For him, it was a matter of free speech.
“I don’t like anyone telling someone how to run their business,” Myers said.
A man and woman stood outside the store on Main Street in Summerville holding a sign that said “Support Free Speech.”
A woman at the Dorchester Road store in North Charleston also said she came out to support free speech.
“I came in support of the First Amendment,” Liz Nagle of Summerville said. “(Cathy) did not say he discriminates against his employees or his customers. This is not a gay and lesbian issue. This is a First Amendment issue.”
On the other hand, marriage was the main issue for the Rev. Doug Cotton of Hanahan, pastor of Northwood Church in Summerville.
“I came in support of a day to reinforce traditional family values,” said Cotton, who was eating at the Northwoods Marketplace Chick-fil-A on Rivers Avenue. “It’s a single issue.”
Outside the store, Devon Parker of North Charleston was waving a rainbow-colored gay-pride flag.
“I just wanted to show that we can be out there too,” said Parker, a restaurant kitchen manager. “I got a lot of middle fingers and a lot of hate words, but the smiles and the honks overcame all the curse words that were yelled out the windows.”
Parker said he plans to take part in a demonstration Friday that calls on gay couples to kiss each other in Chick-fil-A lobbies.
The gay-rights group GLAAD is pushing the “National Same-Sex Kiss Day.” The group stressed that it set the day before Huckabee started his campaign.
An online petition is asking the College of Charleston to drop plans to open a Chick-fil-A in Berry residence hall this fall. As of Wednesday night, the petition had gathered 614 signatures. A College of Charleston spokesman said the college won’t comment until it gets the petition.
Andrew Williams and Allison Nugent contributed to this report.