Bull Moose, the Maine-based chain of music and video stores, is reopening its store in Salem, New Hampshire, rehiring the employees who were laid off there three weeks ago and apologizing for its actions.

The company still has not explained precisely why it suddenly closed the store in May, but some of the laid-off employees said the action stemmed from Bull Moose’s decision to allow unmasked customers in the store. Employees, who said they had many heated encounters with customers over the mask mandate in the past year, said most staff in Salem opposed the decision.

Some employees also said there were other employee issues at the store, with some workers saying they were subjected to harassment – sexual and otherwise – by customers, and that managers failed to provide help.

In an interview, Bull Moose founder Brett Wickard said communication between upper management and workers in Salem broke down this spring over a number of issues.

“We didn’t really see a path going forward,” Wickard said.

He said the company quickly realized it had made the wrong move, but wanted to take concrete positive actions before reversing course, which it did Friday with a statement that Wickard posted on Twitter.

Wickard said the company “started aggressively listening to everyone” after the store closing, including reaching out to terminated workers. He said Bull Moose offered the ex-employees their jobs back – with back pay for missed hours after the store was shuttered – and recommitted to raising wages with a goal that everyone in the company will earn at least $15 an hour by next June.

The company said 23 workers were fired on May 21 when the store was shut down, and that all 23 have accepted offers from Bull Moose to be rehired.

Wickard said the controversy over the mask rule was a symptom of how communications had broken down, and that company officials should have been more sensitive to how issues such as mask-wearing should be dealt with on a local basis rather than via a flat rule across the chain’s 11 stores in Maine and New Hampshire.

Likewise, he said, employees should have felt that the company had their backs on harassment, and that it will address that issue. Wickard said the manager of another Bull Moose location has been assigned to run the Salem store.

Wickard said it would be too simplistic to blame the problems on the growth of the small chain.

“We have values that we work off of, and this was a mistake,” he said. “We were wrong and growing pains are no excuse, a pandemic is no excuse. This is a serious long-term thing that we are going to get right.”

Will Boisvert, one of the rehired employees, said he’s cautiously optimistic that things will turn around in Salem.

“We’ve just had a lot of support all around,” he said. “I feel appreciated going back. I’m much more optimistic than pessimistic.”

Boisvert said he was paid for his regular hours for two of the three weeks of work that he missed. Wickard said that there was no schedule in place when the store closed, and that the company will work with employees to make sure they are paid for all the hours they lost.

Wickard repeatedly apologized in his statement that was posted on Twitter Friday.

In it, he said the company prides itself on building community and acting with empathy, “yet we failed on both those counts.” He also pledged that the company would “expand our internal dialogue” to give workers a stronger voice in workplace issues.

“Falling flat on our faces was humbling, but we’re determined to have our mistakes become a transformative event for Bull Moose,” the statement said.


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