ELK RIVER, Minn. (KMSP) - Ray Belanger has spent the last three years in the foyer of Elk River's Walmart, brightening customers’ days with a fist bump, a high five or an enthusiastic "Hello!" But those days nearly came to a halt Sunday after what the company calls a "misunderstanding" over several complaints.
A staple of the community in the northwest Twin Cities metro, thousands of people identify Belanger as the grandpa they never had and say they come to that store over others because of his presence. He even won an award for "great customer service" two years ago, the Elk River location's first.
So when the company told him to sit down--and tone it down--they weren't having it.
"His spirit is illuminating and it’s just a crime if you put him in a chair," said Debbie Wilson, who often makes the trek to Elk River specifically to see the 82-year-old greeter. Wilson uses an electric cart to shop, something Belanger always has at the ready when he sees her. "It’s like having your best friend at the front door, it really is."
As of Monday evening more than a thousand people had signed a petition to urge Walmart to reconsider their reprimand and allow Belanger to do what he does best--put a smile on people's faces.
"I go there and sit?" he asked, wondering what his job will look like once he returns to work on Thursday. "I can stay home and do that."
Walmart meanwhile maintains the entire incident is “major miscommunication" and that Ray can continue greeting people with his signature high fives and fist bumps--so long as the customer wants one.