Hobby Lobby Defies Stay-at-Home Orders by Reopening Some Stores

Authorities in two states sent cease-and-desist letters to the craft store chain.

Hobby Lobby stores across the nation have circumvented state-ordered closings.
Credit...Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

The arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby was accused of defying stay-at-home orders in at least four states during the coronavirus outbreak, prompting officials to take action against the retailer.

The moves by state and local authorities in Colorado, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin to shut the stores down came as governors across much of the United States have signed stay-at-home orders and health authorities have urged Americans to practice social distancing. Still, some haven’t heeded the advice, from spring breakers to some megachurches. In Florida, a pastor was arrested after defying virus orders.

W. Eric Kuhn, the senior assistant state attorney general of Colorado, where there are 10 stores, sent a cease-and-desist letter to the company after it had reopened its stores in the state this week. The letter said the company’s actions violated a March 25 executive order signed by Gov. Jared Polis directing Coloradans to stay at home and requiring all businesses to close that were not designated by state health officials as critical.

Lawrence Pacheco, a spokesman for the State Attorney General’s Office, said on Friday that the company notified the office it would comply and closed all of its stores on Thursday.

Ohio’s attorney general, Dave Yost, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that he had sent a similar cease-and-desist letter to Hobby Lobby and that the company had agreed to close stores in his state, where there are 10.

“Same rules for everybody. It’s hard. It hurts. But it’s about saving lives,” Mr. Yost tweeted on Thursday.

The authorities in Wisconsin, where there are also 10 stores and a stay-at-home order is in place until April 24, encountered similar issues with Hobby Lobby stores. Officials in West Allis, a city west of Milwaukee, shut down a store on Monday, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Store locations in other cities around the state were also forced to close on Tuesday after reopening on Monday.

In Jeffersonville, Ind., the Clark County Health Department closed a Hobby Lobby store that had reopened on Monday. The store had initially closed on March 24, according to WLKY, but some employees were asked to return to work when the store reopened. Last week, Gov. Eric J. Holcomb of Indiana had issued a statewide stay-at-home order, which outlined grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations as some of the essential businesses allowed to remain open.

While several Hobby Lobby stores in Indiana did appear to be closed on Thursday, employees answering phones at three locations said the stores remained opened; they referred questions about operating during the outbreak to their corporate office.

Hobby Lobby, which has more than 900 stores across 46 states and is based in Oklahoma City, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Last month, the company announced in a statement about Covid-19 that it was closely monitoring developments to ensure it was following recommendations from health authorities. The company also announced new efforts to safeguard the health and safety of its customers and employees.

In Colorado, Mr. Kuhn wrote that Hobby Lobby had until 5 p.m. on Thursday to comply with the closing order or the state would seek court relief, including a temporary restraining order.

Mr. Kuhn’s letter was sent to David Green, the founder and chief executive of Hobby Lobby, which is widely known for its Supreme Court challenge of an Affordable Care Act provision requiring family-owned corporations to pay for insurance coverage of contraception.

In a 2014 ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby and a second company, both of which were owned by Christian families, the Supreme Court said the provision had violated a federal law protecting religious freedom.