Hobby Lobby told to “cease and desist” after it reopens stores

Hobby Lobby’s attempt at reopening stores in defiance of stay-at home orders intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus is meeting opposition, with at least two states threatening enforcement action against the arts-and-crafts retailer. 

The Oklahoma City-based company’s controversial stance comes as some of the nation’s biggest retailers temporarily close or limit their hours of operations because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 5,600 Americans.

After initially complying with mandates in effect in a majority of states that called on all non-essential businesses to close, the Oklahoma company decided to make the case that it serves critical needs and should reopen. On Saturday, employees were told to return to stores that had been temporarily shuttered, including locations in Texas, Colorado, Ohio and Michigan

Sign posted on front door of Hobby Lobby store in Garland, Texas. Andrea Freidberg

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost took to social media Wednesday to note that while Hobby Lobby had “properly closed its stores during Ohio’s stay-home order. Now they’re open again — what’s changed? Neither the order, nor the seriousness of the health threat, for sure.” 

Within an hour of receiving his cease-and-desist order, Hobby Lobby’s general counsel called to say the company would be closing its stores in the state as of Wednesday night, Yost stated in a follow-up tweet. 

Hobby Lobby operates more than 900 stores across the country, including 37 stores in Ohio, where it just weeks ago announced a grand opening in Sandusky. The phone number for the Sandusky store was disconnected as of Thursday. 

The retail chain’s decision to reopen drew a similar reception in Colorado, where there are 21 Hobby Lobby locations. In its cease-and-desist letter, W. Eric Kuhn, the senior assistant state attorney general, noted that Hobby Lobby had reopened its stores in the state this week, violating a March 25 order by Gov. Jared Polis telling Coloradans to stay home and ordering all non-critical businesses to close. 

“For the avoidance of doubt, Hobby Lobby is not a ‘critical business,'” Kuhn wrote in the missive, which was posted by local media.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser’s office on Wednesday sent a warning letter to Hobby Lobby on behalf of the state health department. The company agreed to close its stores in the state on Thursday, a spokesperson for Weiser said in an email to CBS MoneyWatch. 

In Texas, home to 108 Hobby Lobby stores as of last month, the retailer continued to welcome customers into its stores despite Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday ordering Texans to stay at home. Calls to two stores in Houston found them to be open as usual, with another store in Garland, a suburb of Dallas, also open.

“It’s plain and obvious to me me that they have no business being open,” Andrea Freidberg, who has worked at the Hobby Lobby’s Garland store for three years, told CBS MoneyWatch this week. 

Hobby Lobby did not return requests for comment. The Texas Attorney General’s office did not immediately return a request for comment and the Texas Health Department said in an email that businesses could check with the state’s emergency management devision on whether it provided an essential service.

Hobby Lobby stores were also open on Thursday in Tennessee, even as Governor Bill Lee on Thursday issued a stay-at-home mandate, a move that came after previous “safer at home” orders by Nashville, Memphis and other cities in the state.

The same could be said for outlets in Indiana, a state where a stay-at-home order expires Monday night, but will likely be extended. The person answering the phone at a Hobby Lobby In Merrillville, Indiana, said the store was open for business, but only letting in 10 people at a time.  

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