Clerks at the newly created American Bell Inc. phone stores spent yesterday answering questions from confused people and trying to defuse irate customers. They also sold some telephones.
Until last Friday, the stores had been among the 24 phone stores operated in the Washington area by Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. C&P's stores leased telephone equipment, handled repairs and sold decorator phones. Eleven C&P stores still do just that, for as long as their inventory lasts, but under government-ordered reorganization of the Bell system, 13 stores were turned over yesterday to ABI, the new unregulated arm of the American Telephone & Telegraph Co.
"Sales are running above expectation," said David Manahan, a public relations representative for ABI.
For the ABI PhoneCenter Store at 1317 F St. NW, that meant 15 telephones were sold--for a total of about $1,400. Business was slower at the PhoneCenter Store in the Georgetown Park shopping mall. By 5 p.m., that store had sold a total of three telephones--two Trimlines and a decorator set.
"We get a lot of browsers," said Peg Herndon, who has managed the Georgetown Park store since May. Herndon was employed by Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. until Friday. Now she works for ABI.
The new ABI PhoneCenter Stores are only selling equipment. The equipment they sell generally has not been offered to customers in the past except on a lease basis.
Yesterday, for the first time, the stores were selling standard desk phones, Princess phones and Trimline phones for prices that ranged from $39.95 to $71.95 per instrument. The stores also had decorator phones ranging from $99 to $265.
The ABI stores are not leasing any equipment to customers, repairing any equipment that they have not sold, or accepting any equipment that customers want to turn back to the phone company.
All that is part of the reorganization plan, but the change left some customers somewhat upset yesterday.
A 35-year-old real estate man appeared at the Georgetown Park counter in late afternoon with two red phones he leased last week from C&P. One phone didn't work and the other was the wrong size for the man's kitchen counter.
Clerk Wilma Scruggs told the man she couldn't help him. Manager Herndon said she couldn't help either. "We're not connected to C&P anymore; we can't take back C&P phones here," Herndon said. "You have to take them to the C&P Service center at 5017 Connecticut Ave."
The man finally left with his telephones. Outside, he commented: "There should be some accommodation--some willingness by the two companies to acknowledge that there will be interim problems like this and to arrange to take care of it."