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Sudden closure of Bismarck photo studio prompts flood of complaints, attorney general investigation

Glasser Images informed customers in an email on Thursday evening that it would be closing due to pandemic hardships and that it would not be able to provide refunds. The announcement prompted an immediate outcry on social media and more than 50 complaints to the North Dakota Attorney General's Office as of Friday morning.

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The Glasser Images photography studio in downtown Bismarck appeared empty on Oct. 8, 2021.
Adam Willis / The Forum
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BISMARCK — The announcement that a Bismarck-based wedding photography studio would shutter without refunds has prompted hundreds of customers to assemble against the business on social media and spurred the North Dakota Attorney General's Office to open an investigation.

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 172 complaints about Glasser Image's abrupt closure by the end of the day Friday, prompting the state to open an investigation into potential violations of consumer fraud protections.

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Grossman noted 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.

In a statement sent to The Forum through an attorney Friday evening, Glasser said he sympathized with the feelings of those who had arranged for his business to photograph their weddings. He added that Glasser Images had operated successfully for 16 years, until costs began to stack up during the pandemic.

"These factors have caused irreparable damage to the business and has forced us to make this decision rapidly," he said. "Closing our doors is extremely heart wrenching for me."

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.

A Facebook group originally titled "GlasserImagesSucks" and renamed "GlasserImagesGroup," formed Thursday with the stated purpose of determining legal action against the business. The group quickly garnered more than 1,000 followers.

V. Keagan McGarvey, a 25 year-old in Minnesota who posted on the Facebook group, said in an interview that she and her fiancé paid the company around $3,000 back in May to shoot their upcoming wedding, accepting a discount in exchange for paying the full cost up front. A former photographer, McGarvey added that photos are one of the most important parts of the wedding day for her, and she's anxious about putting down money with someone else after getting burned.

"The fact that we trusted this company to do this is really devastating," she said. "We're already kind of struggling because we want the day to be really special."

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On Facebook, McGarvey shared an email from Glasser dated to Sept. 25 advertising discounts on bookings for wedding videos.

One commenter responded that she accepted a discount to pay the company in full on Wednesday, Oct. 6, one day before the announced closure.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at awillis@forumcomm.com.

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