Couples left without wedding photos, photographer after Bismarck-based business abruptly closes

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A Bismarck, North Dakota-based photographer abruptly closed this week, surprising customers across several states, including Minnesota.

Malory and Chris Van Guilder have been waiting months for their wedding photos. They’ve only received about a dozen so far from Glasser Images.

“I just don’t know if there’s any more coming my way,” Malory Van Guilder said.

They booked and fully paid for their photographer through Glasser Images in January 2020. The Minneapolis wedding was scheduled for September of last year and Van Guilder said she was grateful they weren’t charged an additional fee when the date was pushed back to June 2021 due to the pandemic.

“The two photographers at our wedding were lovely to work with,” Van Guilder said. “They were super professional and the communication from their staff leading up to the wedding was fine.”

The day was documented over the course of six hours. Once the wedding was over, family and friends asked to see the photos. Van Guilder said last month she began reaching out to the company every week.

“They just kept saying we’re working on them, we’re really busy, it’s wedding season, which I understand, and with COVID, people are short-staffed so I didn’t think anything of it,” she said.

On Friday, she learned the company had shut down.

“This just came out of left field,” Van Guilder said. “I reached out to the company on Monday because my grandpa had just been transferred to hospice and it was a big deal he got to come to the wedding. I just said, ‘Hey, I would really like at least the photos of my grandpa so I can show them to him,’ and Jack, the founder, replied right away, he sent me three photos of me and my grandpa fully edited with not very much time at all.”

Van Guilder said owner Jack Glasser is no longer returning her calls or emails.

“I’m going back and forth between tears and being very, very angry,” she said. “I just want my memories, I can’t relive that day.”

The company provided a variety of photography and videography services to North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Colorado and other locations on request. According to the now-offline Glasser Images website, the company didn’t charge for travel costs.

Van Guilder told us she’s filed a complaint with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office. The North Dakota Attorney General’s Office reports receiving more than 50 complaints since Thursday night, according to affiliate WDAY-TV.

After receiving calls about Glasser Images, Bismarck Police Department posted to its Facebook page that customers should file a report with the North Dakota Attorney General.

A Facebook forum now offering support to customers and photographers has about 1,600 members.

Glasser obtained an attorney on Friday afternoon, Tim O’Keefe. Glasser apologized to the customers in a statement released through O’Keefe.

“We’ve been in business for 16 years and up until Covid-19 hit, we were successful and growing, but then things drastically changed for the worse,” Glasser said. “We pivoted and made changes, but simply couldn’t keep up with our ongoing costs, debt repayment, salaries, rent and other business expenses. These factors have caused irreparable damage to the business and has forced us to make this decision rapidly. Closing our doors is extremely heart wrenching for me.”

According to the statement, Glasser Images has been in business for 16 years. It had 150 employees and subcontractors before it closed on Oct. 7.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked whether customers will receive their photos or a refund. O’Keefe didn’t respond on Friday night.

Van Guilder hopes she’ll receive her wedding photos, even if they’re unedited.

“I know people can fall on hard times and I’m understanding of that but your lack of empathy is hurting people right now and it costs you nothing to give people their memories back,” she said, speaking to Glasser.

Glasser Images is no longer Better Business Bureau accredited.

A spokesperson for the BBB said the agency is processing at least 10 consumer complaints received Friday.

In an email, the spokesperson said, “Glasser informed customers it is closing unexpectedly because the ‘past and ongoing effects from the pandemic have caused irreparable damage that has forced this decision to happen extremely rapidly and immediately.’"

In the same message, they also apologized for being unable to fulfill contracts and refund any payments already paid, for incomplete services.

The BBB spoke with one individual whose niece had just signed a contract and paid a deposit on Tuesday of this week to find out four days later she won’t be receiving the money back and the services she requested will not be fulfilled. The other complainants described their shock and frustration over the situation and requested full refunds or photos that were taken and paid for but not yet delivered.

The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota previously assigned Glasser Images an A rating, according to the BBB Ratings System. Because of the pending complaints, the BBB has updated the business’s rating and added the following information on Glasser’s BBB Business Profile.

"Additional Information: BBB has recently received complaints from consumers who paid between $700.00 and $4,000.00 for photos. The consumers state they were recently informed by the business and their attorney, that the business had closed unexpectedly and would not be providing refunds. These complaints are currently pending as BBB is waiting for the business’s response."

The BBB recommends customers file a complaint with its dispute resolution team and the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office. Those who paid for services can also reach out to their credit card company for help.