Hobby Lobby locations across the Denver area were open to shoppers Monday despite the statewide stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Jared Polis last week mandating all non-critical businesses shutter until April 11.
The chain’s decision to stay open in the face of coronavirus social-distancing orders hasn’t gone unnoticed on social media.
Employees from locations nationwide have been outspoken on Twitter, claiming the company exploits loopholes in orders similar to Colorado’s to stay open. People have shared photos of signs posted at Hobby Lobby stores that say they’re essential businesses because they sell materials for making personal protective equipment and homeschooling supplies.
In Colorado, though, the answer is clear: Hobby Lobby and other crafty outfitters like it are not essential under Polis’ public health order.
“They are not exempt,” Conor Cahill, the governor’s press secretary, confirmed Monday when asked about Hobby Lobby.
Managers at Hobby Lobby locations in Wheat Ridge, Lakewood and Englewood declined comment when The Denver Post asked why they were open. Attempts to reach the chain’s corporate representatives were unsuccessful. And Hobby Lobby’s customer service line was “not accepting phone calls at this time,” according to a recorded message.
Uncertainty around what constitutes a critical versus non-critical establishment under the governor’s order has prompted a wave of complaints from locals. Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser’s office has received about 700 reports about businesses violating the stay-at-home order since Friday, he said.
Weiser would not disclose whether his office had taken reports about Hobby Lobby or if he plans to pursue action against the company, stating, “I’m not going to get into individual cases.”
In Denver, the city and county enforcement team contacted 2,577 businesses and citizens about non-compliance as of Sunday, issuing 543 warnings and giving out four citations, according to the joint information center.
“People are aware that we are here as a backstop and people feel an obligation to help us do the work of enforcing the public health order,” Weiser said. “That’s how we are going to get through this.”
The governor released a lengthy list of health, retail, manufacturing, finance and infrastructure operations deemed critical and allowed to operate during the coronavirus pandemic.
Here’s what to do if you suspect a business is violating the state’s order to close.
First, contact your local law enforcement and public health agency.
County-level leaders are the first line of defense when it comes to enforcing coronavirus-related regulations, Weiser said. Most will try to work with the business to understand any discrepancies in compliance with the state’s executive order before escalating to civil or criminal penalties.
Violation of a public health order is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $1,000 or one year in jail. Criminal penalties, however, are reserved for the most extreme cases that show “a flat disregard for the law,” Weiser said.
If you don’t hear from local authorities, send a note directly to the attorney general.
Local officials have had to react quickly to the rapidly changing situation around the coronavirus, and many enforcement teams are just getting off the ground. While they encourage residents to report suspected violators, they may not be able to address every complaint.
Weiser’s office, too, is currently analyzing all of the reports it received. People who don’t hear from their local officials in a timely manner are encouraged to email reports to [email protected].
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