Abdul Sheikh's Gaithersburg rental business typically spends $20,000 to $25,000 at Lowe’s each year.
Now he said he'll take that money elsewhere.
The company has pulled advertising from a national reality show about Muslim-American families based on pressure from a group that says it fails to "accurately portray Muslims as terrorists."
"I guess they have the right to spend money the way they want, but the way they did this wasn’t right," Sheikh said. "That's the crux of the issue."
Sheikh was one of about 60 protesters spread across two of the five entrances to the Kentland Lowe's around 2 p.m. Sunday. With silver whistles and rainbow-colored kazoos, they waved signs at drivers and pedestrians on their way into the company's only Montgomery County location, chanting, "One, two, three, four, how Lowe can you go?"
Former Maryland Del. Saqib Ali, one of the protest’s leaders, is one of several organizers united through the National Lowe's Boycott Network, a grassroots campaign raising awareness about Lowe's decision to pull advertising from the TLC series "All-American Muslim," which follows five Muslim-American families in Dearborn, Mich. Lowe's was pressured into the decision by the group Florida Family Association.
Members of the network are encouraging a nationwide boycott of Lowe's, and organized protests this weekend in several other locations across the country, including San Diego, Calif; Allen Park, Mich.; Brooklyn, N.Y. and Alexandria, Va. By Sunday afternoon, nearly 40,700 people had signed a national petition against the decision.
More than 100 people were expected to join Ali at the roundabout at Kentland Boulevard and Market Street over the course of the afternoon, including, Del. Kumar Barve, Maryland's House Majority Leader; Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett; Gaithersburg City Councilman Michael Sesma; and former Maryland Del. Robin Ficker.
"We are now becoming a country where a virulent minority of people have decided it's okay to hate people with different religious views and I think that's unacceptable," Barve said. "I don't know which is worse: the honest, naked religious hatred of the Florida Family Council or the moral cowardice of Lowe's."
Last week, the North Carolina-based company apologized on Facebook "to anyone offended by our advertising business decision or posts on this page," but stopped short of apologizing for the decision itself.
Barve, who is Hindu, said the situation happened the way it did only because "this is about Muslims."
"If this were about any other religion it would not have come up the way that it did," Barve said. "Nobody would lean on a major corporation to my knowledge to withdraw its advertising. This is all about hatred of Muslims."
But residents of all religions turned out to show their support Sunday, saying the decision threatened religious freedom for Americans of all faiths. North Potomac resident Rick Popowitz, who is Jewish, said it wasn't too long ago that 6 million Jews were "killed by bigots."
"[Lowe's] reacted to a group that says you have to accurately portray Muslims as terrorists. I think that's absolutely flawed. There are Muslims who are terrorists, but there are Muslims who have children who are soccer players, Muslims who are Boy Scouts and Eagle Scouts. This is fundamentally ridiculous," he said.
Leggett, who held a sign that said "a Lowe's down dirty shame," said the country was founded on religious tolerance and he was "shocked Lowe's would respond in such a manner."
"I wanted to be here to say at least here in this community, in this county, we are for inclusion and diversity and the actions of Lowe's should not be accepted," Leggett said. "What are the boundaries for this kind of action? … It affects all of us — Muslims today are Hindus or Christians tomorrow."
Some of the protesters, including one Gaithersburg man who brought his two daughters to the gathering, used the afternoon as an opportunity to teach his children about diversity and respect.
"I want to teach my kids that we shouldn't hate people for their religion or what they believe," he said. Next to him, his 4-year-old daughter waved a sign she drew in markers with her sister. It said, "Respect."
While some drivers and pedestrians who passed the protest seemed indifferent to the signs and shouts — including a man in a tan SUV who rolled down his window to yell "Shop at Lowe's all day, baby" — others honked in support.
Jessica Liu, a Rockville resident, spent several minutes talking to a woman who stopped her car at the edge of the roundabout to take a flyer. The woman was "quite shocked" Lowe's decided to pull money based on pressure from the other side, said Liu, who became a Muslim six years ago.
"We're normal like everyone else," Liu said.
Ali, Barve and Leggett hope for an apology from the store. Popowitz hopes the chain will take it one step further, pouring money into inter-faith groups and education.
"When you look at it on a fundamental basis, you have to look out for each other. I forget which philosopher who said that if someone doesn't come and speak up for me … then they will take the Jews, then they will take the gypsies, then they will take the homosexuals and when they come for me who will be there to speak for me? And the answer is no one. And so we have to stop this," he said.
"Obviously, the people on the corporate board within Lowe's only understand numbers, so I’m not going to shop there, period," Barve added. "I'm hoping they will realize that the vast majority of Americans are not bigots and hopefully we'll stop shopping there and they'll change their decision, they'll apologize to the good American-Muslims … and admit they made a catastrophic mistake."