May 1, 2020
As North Carolina’s Rowan County warned a Hobby Lobby store against reopening because of alleged coronavirus restrictions — which don’t prevent large retailers from operating in the state — county officials set up a portal for residents to report businesses that don’t comply with health officials’ social distancing guidelines.
Hobby Lobby had obtained approval from the North Carolina Department of Revenue to reopen its locations in the state, but Rowan County warned the store that it would send law enforcement to monitor its business if it decided to do so.
County officials acknowledged that they cannot prevent Hobby Lobby from reopening since the decision was the state’s to make, but now they’re encouraging local residents to report alleged violations.
Rowan County Health Department spokesperson TJ Brown said residents can submit complaints via the county’s website, and that the complaint will go directly to the county’s COVID-19 email address and the 911 director if needed, according to the Salisbury Post.
Depending on the complaint, law enforcement might decide to visit the business to enforce social distancing, Brown added.
If Hobby Lobby repeatedly violates social distancing, the county will draft criminal charges, said Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten.
The state government requires businesses that open to maintain at least 6 feet of distance between individuals in the store, to provide hand soap and/or hand sanitizer regularly, and to clean high-touch surfaces frequently.
The stores must also limit how many people they have within the buildings to prevent overcrowding.
County Attorney Jay Dees said that county law enforcement will spot-check Hobby Lobby to make sure the store is following these guidelines.
“We want all of our local businesses to survive and ultimately thrive as the executive orders allow more complete openings,” Dees said in an email to Hobby Lobby’s general counsel, Alicia Wiley, according to the Salisbury Post. “We just hope that by complying with these orders now, that date may be much sooner than if businesses push to open too quickly and do not comply.”
Dees apparently received criticism from the public over his perceived poor treatment of Hobby Lobby. He issued a statement on Tuesday claiming his email to Wiley was “misconstrued.”
“My email merely restated the State Department of Revenue’s determination that Hobby Lobby is not an essential business, but that it, like any other business, may operate if they follow current separation standards,” Dees said in his statement. “The County has not approved, or denied any business opening because we do not have that legal authority.”