The announcement that a Bismarck-based wedding photography studio would shut their doors permanently without refunds has prompted hundreds of customers to lash out against the business on social media and mounting complaints have spurred an investigation by the North Dakota Attorney General's Office.
Glasser Images informed customers in an email at 7:24 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 7, that it would be closing its doors due to economic hardships during the pandemic, and that it would not be able to return deposits to customers who had already paid.
"Due to closing, if there is anything paid, we will not be able to provide any refunds. For this, we cannot apologize enough," the studio's founder, Jack Glasser, wrote in the email.
Parrell Grossman, a lawyer with the consumer and antitrust division of the attorney general's office, said the state had received at least 50 complaints about the abrupt closure of Glasser Images since Thursday's announcement, prompting the state to open an investigation into potential violations of consumer fraud protections.
Grossman noted that the attorney general's office does not investigate every business closure, but said that in this case there were enough complaints and specific factors to warrant closer scrutiny. Some of the complaints likely deal in down payments worth thousands of dollars, including one complaint Grossman cited that alleged Glasser accepted a $5,000 deposit in October, just days before shutting down.
Daisia Wilkinson, a food server at Country Rose Diner in Dickinson, said she and her husband Mason were supposed to get married last summer, but postponed their wedding to July 24 due to the COVID pandemic. They had signed a contract with Glasser and said the company was amicable and generous in the rescheduling process.
Then the announcement came and now she says Glasser has not been reachable.
For customers like Wilkinson, whose priceless photos and video footage of their most special of days, the news of the company's closure prompted anger and then tears of sadness. Wilkinson attempted to reach out to the photographers and videographers who worked for the company directly, and was told by her wedding's main photographer that they no longer had access to the photos. Luckily for her, the second photographer and videographer did have some of the content and said they will send her what they have.
“I told them, ‘I will pay you for it because you don’t deserve to just not get paid and work for free.’ So I’m getting something back, but if they weren’t generous and nice enough to do that themselves, we wouldn’t be getting anything at all,” Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson’s friends Kaylee Meduna and Ely Brunmeier, both of Dickinson, were not as lucky financially.
Meduna booked Glasser’s services for her June 2022 wedding and says when they found out Glasser was shutting down and refusing to give refunds she initially didn’t believe it because it seemed "too crazy to be true."
“It’s just unreal,” Meduna said of the $5,500 payment she lost as a result.
“They were giving out discounts left and right if you booked with them,” she said, adding that she was among the many who filed a complaint against Glasser with the Attorney General of North Dakota. “It just makes me think that they saw this coming and they were doing this to collect as much money as they could.”
Glasser did not immediately respond to a voicemail left for comment for this story.
Jon Sanstead, a Bismarck attorney referenced in Glasser's closure announcement, said in an email that he is no longer representing the business due to a conflict discovered the night before and that he was not aware of who would be representing Glasser moving forward.
Stacia Marie, who runs her own photography business called Stacia Marie Images & Co and is based in Central Minnesota, worked as a subcontractor for Glasser since 2017.
Most of Marie’s work is within an hour drive of the Twin Cities, but she’s worked in several other states as well, including South Dakota and Wisconsin. She said she booked Glasser for her own wedding a few years ago to lock in the pricing, which cost her about $4,000 — an amount she says they owe in addition to more than triple that for her labor for the company.
“I’m really scared to look up that exact number, but I have a feeling it’s close to $20,000,” Stacia said, adding that Glasser was notorious for neglecting to pay for labor in a timely manner. “I was offered a substantial raise to stay on because I’ve threatened to quit numerous times because of payment issues. I have not received one paycheck, since I got my raise back in May.”
Marie said this is an especially hard time to take such a tough blow as winter is a slow season for both photography and the construction industry in which her fiancé works.
“That’s the money we were planning on paying our mortgage with and living off of. So it’s, it’s hard but I’m very fortunate. I have a lot of amazing clients in my life and my business is growing more and more all the time,” she said.
Marie expressed her sorrow for the newer Glasser employees, many of whom might be worried about how they’ll grapple with basic expenses such as groceries and rent.
“I feel especially bad for the new photographers because they started working with (Glasser) to gain experience and a lot of them rely on this as their sole source of income while they’re learning. It’s always been the same sad story for the past four years,” Stacia said.
A search of a U.S. Small Business Administration database shows that Glasser Images received two loans totaling more than $500,000 through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, a government initiative aimed at supporting struggling businesses during the pandemic.