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Salvation Army bell ringer told he can’t play trumpet while ringing at Walmart

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POTSDAM — Since the Walmart opened here in 2008, Robert A. Gibbs has enjoyed standing outside the store and playing his trumpet to help raise money for the Salvation Army.

This year, however, his horn has been silenced.

“I was out on Wednesday and Thursday, and it was then that they stopped me,” said Mr. Gibbs, an 81-year-old retired professor who taught at the Crane School of Music in Potsdam from 1962 through 1999.

“I was playing and along comes some young fellow who works for Walmart. He said, ‘You have to stop playing. You can’t do this; it’s a company policy.’ I told him that I wanted to speak to his manager and then a nice young lady, who was the assistant manager, came out and said the same thing. I told her I wanted to speak to the manager,” he said.

The manager, Chad M. Bogacz, who deferred comment to the store’s corporate office, then came out to speak with Mr. Gibbs.

“I could have stayed if I wanted to ring the bell and sing, which is the crazy thing; I just couldn’t play my horn.”

His is not the only case of entertaining bell ringers being told to stop. Carl Zender, a bell ringer from Massena, was told by the Walmart store there that he couldn’t use a boom box to entertain customers while ringing the bell.

Jennifer Byrd, Salvation Army national public relations director, said the decision not to allow instruments was made jointly with the agency and Walmart at the national level.

“We understand that some bell ringers have developed a unique way to bring in some holiday cheer; however, the plan we developed with Walmart excludes music and musical instruments,” Ms. Byrd said in a statement Friday afternoon.

While the policy is a national one, Walmart spokeswoman Kayla R. Whaling said incidents of bell ringers being displaced by the policy appear to be limited to Northern New York.

“We are not aware of this happening elsewhere,” she said, adding that Walmart enjoys a strong relation with the Salvation Army.

Mr. Gibbs said he would like to see the local store managers allowed to use their judgment on whether to allow an entertainer.

“I understand where they’re coming from in one sense; you can’t have a bunch of drunks doing this or people with cords all over the place, but they should be able to amend the policy to the situation,” he said, adding that he’ll find someplace else in town to play his horn and ring his bell. “I’ve been playing trumpet for 72 years. I started when I was 9 and now I’m 81.”

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