What is considered an “essential business”? And who has greater authority, God or Governor? These were the questions raised when Hobby Lobby owners defied Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s stay-at-home order and reopened its locations on Wednesday morning. However, soon after, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost stepped in and issued a cease-and-desist letter, ordering the arts and crafts retailer to shut down.
By Wednesday evening, the retailer’s legal team notified Yost that the Ohio stores were closed, and he announced the news on Twitter.
UPDATED: Hobby Lobby announced two hours ago that it was temporarily closing all store locations due to the coronavirus. However, Hobby Lobby wasn’t the only craft store bucking the trend. Michaels and Joann Fabrics remained open as well, and as of press time are still open.
And the reasons these three retailers gave for staying open? Everything from helping hospitals to getting a message from God.
The Word of God
The Hobby Lobby fight with the Ohio Attorney General and Governor appears to have started as an act of God.
On March 17th the company released a letter to customers about how they “proactively implemented measures to help minimize risks of shopping in our stores.” This included extra store cleanings and limiting employee behaviors. Then on March 19, company CEO David Green allegedly sent a letter to employees explaining that Hobby Lobby stores would stay open, in part, because God sent a message to his “prayer warrior” wife, Barbara. (Full letter posted below.) It said:
In her quiet prayer time this past week, the Lord put on Barbara’s heart three profound words to remind us that He’s in control. Guide, Guard, and Groom. We serve a God who will Guide us through this storm, who will Guard us as we travel to places never seen before, and who, as a result of this experience, will Groom us to be better than we could have ever thought possible before now.
So, essentially, Hobby Lobby is keeping their stores clean. And if that doesn’t work, God will protect you and the employees from the coronavirus as well.
The Real Deal
The letter appears to be legitimate. Fact-checking site Snopes.com analyzed its origins and stated, “We don’t see any reason to doubt the veracity of this letter.” They note that Green and his family are vocal Evangelical Christians who fought in court against the contraceptive coverage requirement included in the Affordable Care Act because it went against their religious beliefs.
However, Snopes added, “…we have not been able to definitively confirm that this letter was written and sent out by Green, nor has Hobby Lobby responded to our request for comment.”
Business Insider reports that this comes on the heels of Hobby Lobby laying off “20% of its part-time and seasonal staff in states where they were forced to close, while simultaneously slashing the salaries of salaried full-time positions by 10%.”
“The managers have been instructed not to warn employees until it happens, and to not tell other stores at risk of closing down,” a Hobby Lobby manager wrote in an email to Business Insider. “[This makes] it harder for employees to receive aid because it will come out of nowhere and they will go from ‘report back to work in a few weeks’ to ‘you’re fired.'”
Other “Crafty” Excuses
Both Michaels and Joann Fabrics have stayed open to varying degrees, claiming that they are “essential” businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies. In a leaked letter, Joann Fabrics CEO even told employees that stores must stay open based on claims that hospitals asked the craft retailer for supplies, presumably to make cloth facemasks and other necessary garments. According to Business Insider, the hospitals “have not heard of this.
Meanwhile, a leaked memo from Michaels’ outgoing CEO Mark Cosby and incoming CEO Ashley Buchanan stated that its stores are “fundamental” to serving everyone in the community “looking to take their minds off a stressful reality.” Michaels is also not providing sick leave pay for employees
Many of these three chains have closed stores, but those closures vary by state. Many still offer online orders and curbside pickup.
Hobby Lobby Ohio Attorney General — Sources
Hobby Lobby coronavirus response
Hobby Lobby store closure announcement
Business Insider — Hobby Lobby layoffs
Business Insider — Joann Fabrics claims
Business Insider — Michaels leaked memo