Bay Area Business Blames Yelp for Business Slump

Brass & Glass doesn't shine on user-written reviews site

By Cheryl Hurd
|  Monday, Mar 15, 2010  |  Updated 6:30 PM PDT
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Bay Area Business Blames Yelp for Business Slump

Cheryl Hurd

Brass & Glass owner Bert Jacobs blames Yelp for slumping sales.

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Bert Jacobs, a longtime owner of Brass & Glass in Oakland, thinks Yelp, the San Francisco-based business-reviews website, is trying to sink his business.

Or rather, its vociferous users are, with vicious reviews that unfairly savage Jacobs' business and his employees, he said.

Jacobs cited one example, a one-star review which cuttingly describes some of Jacobs's deliverymen:

I tried to shop at Brass & Glass but the staff wasn't too interested in helping me.  They employ a group of guys that look like parolee thugs.  I wouldn't trust these guys delivering to my house.

"All it takes is for me, pardon my french, to piss off the person and all of a sudden the site can be filled with negative reviews," said Jacobs.

Jacobs believes Yelp needs to filter its business reviews to protect the consumer.  He says he agrees with freedom of speech, but with that freedom he says comes responsibility.

Yelp, on the other hand, says it is protecting consumers -- by filtering its reviews for overly positive reviews that may potentially be posted by a business owner or his friends, an activity it describes as "gaming" a system meant to generate honest reviews.

"The company has had an automated filter in place since 2005 to help protect consumers from those who try to game the system," said Vince Sollitto, Yelp's vice president of communications, in an emailed statement.

Jacobs said his beef goes deeper than that.

He says he recently got a call from Yelp, asking him to advertise on the site. Jacobs said the call made him feel like a victim of extortion. He said he doesn't have a paper trail to prove it, but claimed he was told if he advertised on Yelp, he could lose those negative reviews.

A Long Beach, California veterinary clinic is claiming the same thing happened to them. It is suing Yelp for extortion.

But Yelp said the allegations are false.

Sollitto explained that "purchasing a sponsorship on Yelp does not give a business owner the ability to remove reviews."

In other words, even Yelp's paying customers don't have much power over the views expressed on the site.

Yelp is wildly popular, and that's what makes Jacobs nervous.

"Can't blame Yelp for everything but it is definitely not helping," Jacobs said.

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