Craig Chester said it all started with a $10 chair.
Soon after the 44-year-old claims to have bought the fabricated office chair from a Value Village thrift store in Ballard, his home was ravaged by bedbugs.
"I don't know why it never crossed my mind that there would be bedbugs in there," said Chester, whose arm was covered with small, red bite marks. "It itches like crazy. I cannot stop itching."
Chester said he first started getting bit when he sat on the chair to play his guitar. By the time he called an exterminator to identify the culprit, it was too late.
"It's a nightmare," he said. "I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy."
The bedbugs had spread from his bedroom to the living room. From there, they made their way into the kitchen, down a hallway and into the spare bedrooms and a bathroom. Craig and his girlfriend emptied the contents of their home onto the back lawn and started sleeping outside in a small shed.
"All of our clothes are in bags," he said. "We have not stopped doing laundry since this happened. Nonstop."
Unable to afford an exterminator at the time, Chester estimated that the infestation would end up costing them thousands of dollars. Confident that the chair was to blame, he called Value Village.
"They put some young girl on the line and as soon as I said 'bedbugs,' she said 'Can you hold?'" Chester said. "She was gone for two or three minutes and she came back and she offered me an exchange. I said 'Well, no thank you, but you better check your store for bedbugs.'"
A few days later, Chester said he got a call from a manager at Value Village who not only offered him a refund on his $10 dollar chair, but 50 percent off anything in the store. Once again, he refused.
"I figured they'd at least try to reimburse us for our expenses," he said. "I think $10,000. You know, I don't want to get rich. I just want to get my stuff paid for, you know?"
Chester said Value Village stopped returning his phone calls.
A spokesperson for Value Village told KIRO Radio that there was no way for Chester to prove that the infestation started with the chair and that there was no sign of an infestation at the location in Ballard. The company declined repeated requests for an interview, but said in an email that items sold at their stores are "carefully evaluated."
Susan Cameron, owner of Northwest K9 Bed Bug Detectives in Seattle, told KIRO Radio that 20 percent of the roughly 140 calls she receives for service each week are tied to used furniture from thrift stores or garage sales.
"It's a big problem," she said.
She pointed to a case in July at a Goodwill warehouse in San Francisco where a confirmed infestation forced the temporary closure of two buildings and the disposal of hundreds of donated items.
Cameron said she is not aware of any thrift stores locally that hire companies to proactively inspect their items for bedbugs.
"I wish they would," she said. "We've approached a couple of stores and it doesn't seem to be really high on their priority list, but it's definitely something I recommend."
Cameron said there is little to no chance of a consumer being able to spot bedbugs on a piece of furniture before they bring it home.
After KIRO Radio contacted Value Village about the claims that Chester made, corporate headquarters in Bellevue looked into the matter further.
While a spokesperson maintained that the store was not to blame, the company ended up writing Chester a check for $8,789.36 - the cost of an exterminator and items he would have to replace.
When asked why the company paid Chester, given their firm denial that the chair was infested with bedbugs when he bought it, Value Village sent the following statement:
As a policy we do not discuss customer matters in a public forum. However, the well-being of our customers is of the utmost importance and we take every step to make sure our stores provide a positive shopping experience.
"I think they saw that we were sincere about it and that we weren't lying," Chester said. "We didn't have bedbugs before we went to Value Village. We bought a product from them and then we had bed bugs, so it was pretty cut and dry."
Chester said he and his girlfriend have been able to replace the items that were infested, and have since started sleeping back inside their home.
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