As the United States scrambles to handle the novel coronavirus pandemic, nonessential businesses have been closing across the nation. In an effort to minimize large crowds and the number of people being exposed (or exposing others), businesses like movie theaters, spas, and gyms have been shuttering. While small businesses and service workers are understandably worried about the financial blow, closures make sense in terms of public health. Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts chain, has started reopening stores—including in states that have orders against it, as reported by Business Insider. Now the police, as well as the local health department, are getting involved.
Let’s look at some of the most glaring numbers: Business Insider reports that Hobby Lobby reopened 17 stores in Wisconsin, a state that currently has a shelter-in-place order, as well as 19 locations in Ohio, where people are also under a shelter-in-place order. At the time of writing, it’s unclear if any Ohio locations have been closed. Many in Colorado were also open, then shut down in less than a day, though it’s unclear why. While Hobby Lobby does sell educational materials, for example, it doesn’t sell things like groceries or the much sought after toilet paper.
Business Insider reports that senior leadership at the chain gave managers guidance on what to say if questioned by authorities about why a craft store is still open during a global pandemic. Per the memo, store managers were encouraged to work with District Managers to identify a reason as to why they can remain open, like selling educational materials or materials to make personal protective equipment. As reported by local outlet Fox 31, snippets of the memo direct managers to use a “respectful tone” if the authorities come by. “If they are told they need to close, it’s yes sir, yes, ma’am,” the memo, originally obtained by The Problem Solvers and reported on by Fox 31, reads in part.
Apparently, those talking points haven’t been enough. As reported by WLKY, one Hobby Lobby location in Jefferson, Indiana, stayed open for a single hour on Monday before it was shut by a local health department representative. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that police closed several locations in the Milwaukee area. The stores closed “without incident,” as West Allis Deputy Police Chief Christopher Botsch told the outlet.
“Last Monday we closed because we were a nonessential business basically, and that was fine with me. Not even four days later, we’re reopened because they’re saying we’re essential now,” an anonymous Hobby Lobby employee in Ohio told Business Insider.
“I don’t want to stay home because I’m too lazy to work,” an anonymous employee in the Midwest told the publication. “I want to stay home to do my part to stop the spread of the virus.”
If you feel like Hobby Lobby was already in the news because of coronavirus-related decisions, you’re right! As my colleague Walter Einenkel covered, Hobby Lobby’s founder, David Green, already made headlines because of a letter he sent to executives explaining why he felt the need to keep stores open during a public health crisis. In short, he basically suggested that God (who reportedly spoke through his wife, Barbara) advised him that stores should stay open.
The company also made headlines for reportedly telling employees they would not be offered additional paid sick leave during a pandemic—they’d have to use paid time off or take the unpaid time off. Going back a few years, you’ll likely remember Hobby Lobby because of its efforts to avoid giving birth control insurance coverage for workers, going all the way to the Supreme Court.