After first checking with Spokane City Hall, Hobby Lobby retail stores this week started allowing customers into their businesses under reduced hours and social distancing directives.
However, a spokesman for Gov. Jay Inslee said the opening appears to be in violation of state guidelines that only allow for essential businesses to remain open during the coronavirus pandemic.
“They are not allowed to open under this phase,” said Mike Faulk, press secretary for Inslee. “It’s a state prohibition, so I’m not sure why they would ask local officials to give them clearance.”
Troy Wolfinbarger, who manages the Hobby Lobby at 7706 N. Division St., said he opened the store this week under reduced hours and occupancy. The company is also making their stores available between 9-10 a.m. for shoppers most at risk, he said.
Asked if his store, which sells arts-and-crafts supplies, was determined to be essential under Inslee’s guidelines, Wolfinbarger said: “That is very far above my pay grade. I was just told to report to work.”
He said Hobby Lobby corporate attorneys had been in contact with Spokane city officials. Wolfinbarger said he did not take part in those discussions.
“They gave us all kinds of requirements to open, and we are following all of them,” he said.
A message seeking comment from Hobby Lobby’s corporate headquarters in Oklahoma City was not immediately returned Friday.
City spokesman Brian Coddington confirmed that Hobby Lobby attorneys had consultations with the city attorneys about reopening.
City attorneys “walked them through the ramifications of opening outside of the governor’s order and the ‘Safe Start Plan,’ ” Coddington said.
The city did not give Hobby Lobby a green light to open and doesn’t have the authority to make that call, he said.
“The city is not in a position to provide legal advice for businesses,” Coddington said. “We are providing links and information that the state has provided to help them through the decision-making process.”
He added: “The message from the city is consistent. Businesses should follow the ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ order and the guidance in the “Safe Start” plan.
Mayor Nadine Woodward has fielded more than 1,000 emails from community members expressing opinions and anxiety about the stay-home order, Coddington said.
But Hobby Lobby is the only business thus far that has reached out directly to the city for guidance.
“All the city is doing is providing the state rules. The city is not in a position to interpret for businesses what those rules are,” Coddington said. “In some cases, there are gray areas. They just need to know what side of the line to fall on.”
Any businesses owners who wonder about their status should contact the state Attorney General’s Office or the governor’s office, he said.
What happens to businesses that open in violation of Inslee’s directive takes several steps to resolve, Faulk said. Most issues first come in the form of a complaint.
“The state Department of Licensing reaches out to them and says, ‘This is the prohibition. You are not supposed to do this,’” he said. “They either stop or keep doing it.”
If a business remains open in violation of the directive, the state could revoke its business license.
“If their license is suspended and they continue to operate in violation, they are looking at potential court action,” Faulk said.
A store like Hobby Lobby could remain open for business, as long as it provides its goods for curbside pickup, he said.
In terms of allowing customers into a store that is not deemed essential, “they are not supposed to do that,” Faulk said.
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