Naked man visits shops in Bennington

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BENNINGTON — A cashier at Bringing You Vermont, a cafe and gift shop on Main Street, sold a man a 12 oz. cup of coffee on Wednesday afternoon. The transaction was unremarkable except for one fact: The customer was not wearing any clothing.

Shortly afterward, the same man paid a visit to the Two Brews restaurant on North Street, where the reaction was markedly different. There, the manager, "terrified" by the man's approach, locked the door and called police.

Numerous calls came in to the Bennington Police Department during the afternoon about the man, who police tracked down at the Autumn Inn, on East Main Street, around 5 p.m. Although the man had committed no crime, he was told by police that he was making people feel uneasy, and agreed to leave town, according to Police Chief Paul Doucette.

"He was making people feel uncomfortable," Doucette said. "It was distracting to many people, and it was offensive to people." Still, in Vermont, public nudity "is not illegal, unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at things," he said.

At Bringing You Vermont, the cashier, Bethany Hassett, 19, said the nude man entered the store around 4 p.m. When he asked about coffee, she directed him to it. At checkout, he asked about places to go swimming around town, and Hassett suggested two lakes.

The brief interaction attracted attention from the approximately 10 customers in the store at the time, one of whom remarked that she had never seen anything like it in all her years of being alive, Hassett said. The encounter was also a first for the cashier, who never before had interacted with a nude customer.

"Other than it being awkward, it wasn't a terrible experience," said Hassett, who added that she did not deem the man's behavior inappropriate.

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The store's owners, Ryan and Heather Hassett — Bethany's parents — echoed their daughter's perception. "He came in, he purchased his coffee, and he left," Heather Hassett said.

After leaving the Main Street store, the man got into a vehicle with Pennsylvania license plates and drove west on Route 9, witnesses said.

The man later appeared at the door of Two Brews Cafe on North Street. The manager, Taigan O'Dell, was working alone in the restaurant, and locked the door to keep the man out. "It was frightening," she said.

O'Dell said the man returned a few minutes later, after a second employee had joined her at the restaurant. He, too, denied the man entry, she said.

Doucette said the man, who was from Pennsylvania, told officers that he had suffered some traumatic events and "wanted to come up to Vermont to check things out." He said the man did not appear to be impaired in any way.

Some merchants had turned him away, Doucette said, "and that's appropriate. Business owners can always ask people to leave the premises."

A state statute bans "open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior" but not mere public nudity, though localities may adopt more stringent laws. A town of Brattleboro ordinance, for instance, forbids nudity in "any location likely to be observed by members of the public and where the public is present or likely to be present."

Bennington has no such ordinance, Town Manager Stuart Hurd confirmed. "By the way, this is the first I've heard of this," he said of the incident in an email on Thursday afternoon.


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