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Maine business responds to backlash over controversial Juneteenth sign

An insurance agency posted a sign to its door ahead of Juneteenth reading, "Juneteenth, it's whatever... we're closed. Enjoy your fried chicken and collard greens."

MILLINOCKET, Maine — A post on social media has now been shared more than 10,000 times and counting, calling out a business in Millinocket for a sign it posted ahead of the Juneteenth holiday. 

The post shows pictures of Harry E. Reed Insurance Inc. on Penobscot Avenue in Millinocket with a sign on the door that reads, "Juneteenth, it's whatever... we're closed. Enjoy your fried chicken and collard greens."

This post sparked outrage throughout the community and beyond, even gaining national attention. 

Progressive and Allstate, two of the nation's largest insurance carriers, told NEWS CENTER Maine on Wednesday that they are terminating their relationships with Harry E. Reed Insurance Co.

"We’re aware and appalled by the sign recently posted at the Harry E Reed Agency and are terminating our relationship with the agency. At Progressive, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) are fundamental to our Core Values," Progressive spokesperson Jeff Sibel wrote in an email. "We’re committed to creating an environment where our people feel welcomed, valued and respected and expect that anyone representing Progressive to take part in this commitment. The sign is in direct violation of that commitment and doesn’t align with our company’s Core Values and Code of Conduct."

"We are terminating our contract with this independent agent," Allstate said in an email to NEWS CENTER Maine. "Our commitment to Inclusive Diversity and Equity is non-negotiable and we take action when individuals violate our code of conduct."

RELATED: Other insurance agencies see backlash after Millinocket agency's sign

Melanie Higgins, an insurance agent at the company, is the one who posted the sign. 

"I would never purposely set out to hurt anyone and I would never purposely set out to hurt my mom's business at all. She had nothing to do with this," Higgins said.

Higgins' mother, Karen, has owned the business since she purchased it more than 30 years ago. Now, just the two of them work there and run the business together. 

Higgins said she posts signs on the door ahead of every holiday they plan on being closed for. Since the start of the pandemic, she said she tried to make those signs more lighthearted and comical to bring some levity to a difficult time. She said she often mentioned food in those signs, as well. 

Showing a number of examples of past signs, she pulled one from Memorial Day, reading in part, "...thank you to all service members for your sacrifice for this country. A country now that is going to hell in a hand basket faster than my dog stealing a piece of pizza off the counter.... now that I mention pizza, I'm craving it... remember, the more you weigh, the harder you are to kidnap."

"I truly apologize, I'm mortified that this is even happening," Higgins said.

Higgins said she had a rough week, and when she wrote the sign last Friday she was in a rush to go home for the weekend. 

As the pictures of the sign continue to circulate social media, she said they've had to take the phone off the hook. 

"We are receiving death threats. We are receiving phone calls calling us really inappropriate words," Higgins said.

Higgins said she hopes she can make this right and that the public will accept her apology. 

Meanwhile, many people online are posting in comments of the post claiming the town of Millinocket is a racist community. 

Peter Jamieson, Millinocket's town manager, said he wanted to set the record straight. 

"We feel very strongly that we just have no place for this in our community," Jamieson said.

Steve Golieb, Millinocket's town council chairman, said they are in the process of discussing how they want to move forward, while also trying to make one thing clear, "an unfortunate incident like this does not characterize who we are as a community," Golieb said.

The business, also posting an apology message Wednesday afternoon to Facebook

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