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Hobby Lobby reopens as "essential business" in areas with stay-at-home orders

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Hobby Lobby is reopening stores in parts of the U.S. with stay-at-home orders in place, arguing that the retailer is an "essential" business because it sells educational and make-your-own mask supplies, along with products for at-home small businesses. The arts-and-crafts chain's 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 already killed more than 4,000 Americans. 

The company closed its roughly dozen stores in the Dallas area for five days last week in complying with a mandate for all nonessential workers to shelter-in-place to curb the spread of the virus, said Andrea Freidberg, who oversees jewelry and wearables as a department manager at a Hobby Lobby in Garland, Texas. "They said we would be closed for two weeks and then evaluate," Freidberg told CBS MoneyWatch. 

But the policy review came more quickly, with Freidberg saying she got a call Saturday from her store manager telling her they were reopening on Monday. Hobby Lobby had come up with a loophole allowing it to remain open because it sells educational and other supplies that people stuck at home might need, she said the company told her. 

That reasoning was spelled out to customers in a sign posted on the front door of Freidberg's store, which stated: "Operating as an essential business Offering PPE Mask supplies, educational supplies, office supplies, and various components for at home small businesses."

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

Hobby Lobby also reopened stores in Ohio, Wisconsin and Colorado despite shelter-in-place orders, according to multiple news accounts. In Kenosha, Wisconsin, a police warning on Tuesday led a Hobby Lobby store to close, according to a local outlet. A Hobby Lobby in Jefferson, Indiana, was open for about 60 minutes on Monday before it was forcibly closed, according to WLKY.

Hobby Lobby founder David Green offered assurances of sorts to his company's more than 43,000 workers in 46 states in a letter earlier this month that referenced the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. 

"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," Green wrote in the missive.

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"It's plain and obvious to me me that they have no business being open," said Freidberg, who has worked for the company three years. Michael's, a direct competitor in the art-and-crafts retail field, had closed its stores in the Dallas area, she noted. A check of the Michael's store in Garland found it remained temporarily closed on Wednesday.

While the 50-year-old Freidberg is back at her $16-an-hour job, she said she's concerned about exposing those with whom she lives. "My 81-year-old father lives with my husband and I. I could have the virus and not even know it. I'm just appalled they are going to keep us open with all this going on."

Hobby Lobby operates nearly 900 stores nationwide and had revenue of about $4.6 billion in 2018. The privately owned company, based in Oklahoma City, did not return a request for comment.

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Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Tuesday announced that only "essential services could remain open across the state." The order came days and even weeks after many counties and cities in Texas had already made the move, including Garland and Dallas County. 

The governor's policy came amid calls to limit Texans' activity statewide, as cases of COVID-19 rise and hospital supplies dwindle. As of Tuesday, more than 600 people had tested positive for the virus in Dallas County and 13 had died, according to the Dallas Morning News.

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