Salvation Army's agreement with Walmart pushes musicians like Potsdam trumpeter and kettle tender away from Walmarts
Saturday, December 8, 2012 - 9:01 am

By CRAIG FREILICH

POTSDAM – A retired Crane professor was told Thursday he couldn’t play Christmas carols on his trumpet while he collects for the Salvation Army because of a policy worked out between Walmart and the Salvation Army.

It’s “for the safety of the volunteers, the customers and our associates at our 4,000 Walmart and Sam’s Club locations,” said Walmart spokeswoman Ashley Hardie.

“We’ve been partnering with the Salvation Army for 30 years,” she said.

“We’ve been partnering with Walmart for more than 30 years,” said Salvation Army Empire State Division spokeswoman Christine Gray, and they revisit the policy worked out between them each year.

Hardie said the policy of no music in front of their stores was aimed at safety and providing a “pleasant shopping environment.”

Hardie and Gray both pointed out that the Salvation Army collected $46 million in charitable donations at Walmart stores last year, almost 30 percent of the total raised during the entire 2011 Red Kettle campaign.

They agreed this year that “there will be no music or singing, insuring the safety of customers and associates,” Gray said.

“We value all of our volunteers whether they play music or not, but we have to follow Walmart’s wishes,” Gray said. “We want to accommodate volunteers but don’t want to jeopardize our agreements with Walmart or anyone else.”

The seasonal tradition of taking in charitable donations at Christmas is an old one for the Salvation Army, so much so that the image brought to mind by the annual campaign is of a red kettle hanging from a stand, a small band in scarves and hats playing carols, and a person ringing a bell.

“We’ve done it with school choirs, school bands, and a Salvation Army brass ensemble,” Gary said.

But that won’t happen in front of Walmarts this year.

“Those in the past who have been assigned to Walmart locations and played music are being reassigned to non-Walmart locations,” Gray said.

“All kettle coordinators alerted all volunteers that they cannot bring a boom box” while they work the customers entering or leaving Walmarts, “and I understand Crane was notified,” Gary said.

So, as was the case of a Massena man who danced and sang to a boom box as he collected for the Salvation Army in front of the Massena Walmart this week, Crane School of Music Professor Emeritus Robert Gibbs, 81, of Potsdam, was told Thursday that if he wanted to collect for the Salvation Army in front of the Potsdam store, he would have to leave the music behind.

“Today I was told that it is against Walmart policy to allow musicians for the Salvation Army to play in front of the store,” said Dr. Gibbs, who for decades taught young musicians until his retirement from the Crane School at SUNY Potsdam.

Gibbs said he believed he was doing a good thing, as he has for years.

“I’ve made a lot of money over the years for the Salvation Army there. I’ll probably go somewhere else,” Gibbs said.

Earlier in the week Carl Zender was banned from the Massena Walmart for dancing to music from a boom box while ringing for the Salvation Army. But Walmart says he is welcome to ring, sing and dance, as long as it was without the boom box and its cords, which could be a hazard.

“There are no wires, no boom box, just me,” said Prof Gibbs, in disappointment that what he has done for years at the Potsdam store, which he thought would be enjoyable for people entering the store, would no longer be allowed.

Meanwhile in Painted Post, in the Finger Lakes region of the state, a man who has been collecting for the Salvation Army in front of the Walmart there was told this week he can’t bring his stereo and play it in front of the store, according to WENY-TV.

“The Salvation Army has agreements with all the companies we ring at,” such as Price Chopper and JC Penny, Gray said.

“Each agreement is different. Other agreements do not stipulate whether we can have music or not.”