Matthew Shepherd, of Matthew’s Chocolates in Hillsborough, said he came up with the idea after he grew increasingly frustrated with a group that gathered outside his shop in the downtown area to wave Confederate flags.
“They were calling me names, they’re calling everybody names,” Shepherd said to CBS17. “They’re instigating, they’re poking, they’re blocking the sidewalk.”
Fed up, Shepherd called the police — but was told the group was protected by free speech and there was nothing they could do. So instead, the chocolatier exercised his own First Amendment rights on a sign placed outside his door on July 27.
“Burn a Rebel Flag…Get a Free Chocolate!” the sign read.
Shepherd said to CBS17 that he wrote the sign, which went viral on social media, to lighten the mood.
“None of the locals want that flag there, none of them. So instead of seeing angry people, I was seeing people, ‘Oh look at this!’” he said.
The move paid off, Shepherd said. In an updated post shared to Facebook on Sunday, Aug. 4, the chocolate shop owner announced he had to close his business for three days because he could not meet the outrageous demand that kept pouring in for more of his confections.
Shepherd had also said he initially received death threats from all over the nation after the sign started drawing attention, but the support seems to have far outweighed the negativity.
“Whew, What a week! I have to apologize to everyone though, we will not be opening on Sunday. We have sold out of everything! There is nothing to sell. No gelato, no chocolates. I am truly sorry for this, I just couldn't make enough chocolates to keep up,” he wrote.
“Thank you ALL for your support, it is overwhelming and I am touched by the love and support pouring in from all over the state,” he continued.
Even the mayor of Hillsborough, Tom Stevens, spoke out against the group waving the Confederate Flags in the downtown area.
“I firmly believe that showing the Confederate flag in public regardless of any other intent sends a message that re-enacts how the flag was used to intimidate persons of color and is a hateful message,” Stevens said to CBS 17. He also posted a long explanation of his feelings behind the flag on his Facebook page.