Why in Heaven’s Name is Hobby Lobby Open in Montana?

When friends told me the Helena Hobby Lobby store was still open, I couldn’t believe it. Local businesses across the community not providing essential services, following the guidance of the Governor’s office and public health officials, shut their doors to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 last week.

Surely, I thought, it was just a rumor that Hobby Lobby, which is highlighting products like a sale on remaining Christmas trees and yarn and needle art, was still open.

So I called today, and the very polite person I spoke to on the phone told me the store would be open until 8:00 this evening.

The open store in Helena is no aberration. In a deeply irresponsible move, Hobby Lobby is defying orders across the country to close.

Even officials in red-state Texas are blasting the company, as CBS News reports:

Hobby Lobby is facing a multi-state backlash for keeping some of its stores open amid the spreading coronavirus, with a Texas official suggesting that the arts-and-craft retailer is endangering public health.

The Oklahoma City-based company’s controversial stance comes as some of the nation’s biggest retail chains temporarily close or limit their hours of operations because of the pandemic, which has killed more than 6,500 Americans.

“I just want to make it clear to Hobby Lobby and anybody who is foolish enough to follow in their footsteps that in Dallas County, the government and 99.9% of the business community, puts public health over profits,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a news conference on Thursday.

It’s no surprise that Hobby Lobby’s owners believe they can act with impunity. The CEO and owner of the chain initially terminated a huge number of employees by e-mail, but after reassuring them that everything would be fine because God had spoken to his wife:

In her quiet prayer time this past week, the Lord put on Barbara’s heart three profound words to remind us that He’s in control. Guide, Guard and Groom. 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 a letter to company employees. “While we do not know for certain what the future holds, or how long this disruption will last, we can all rest knowing God is in control.”

The local businesses who support our community shuttered their doors, not because they didn’t want to keep serving us, not because they didn’t want to be at work, but because they wanted to join the community fight to keep COVID-19 infections in check. Hobby Lobby, already practically a criminal organization, one that fought for–and won– the right to discriminate against access to birth control for employees, apparently thinks it’s above that fight, and that profit for the family that owns it matters more than the public’s health.

The Lewis and Clark County Health Department should shut them down now. And the people of Helena should remember where Hobby Lobby stood in this crisis.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

18 Comments

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  • Many people in Helena refused to even go to Hobby lobby because of the corporate political stance. I confess I went in a couple of times last year. I was very disturbed by all of the gun themed posters, knickknacks, and furniture items I saw. I also had a sense that the clientele there was mostly middle class families with children in tow. I have family members who are deeply engaged in the evangelical fundamental church activities in the state and I can tell you I can see by their Facebook posts with their like-minded friends that they are true blue Trump supporters no matter what. Many of them believe that Trump is the leader who will lead us into the end times and they are getting ready for that. The rest of us have the same feeling but not in the same welcoming way! I grew up in this religious atmosphere which I now view as a cult. My dad, who reluctantly participated in our family and church activities, was fond of muttering under his breath, “the bells of hell go ting-a-ling for you but not for me .” You got it right Dad!

    • Helena’s beloved Ben Franklin store closed at the same time hobby lobby opened. But another local art supply store opened and local artists of which Helena has many have faithfully supported this small local business.
      I am proud.

  • I just called and spoke to the manager there – he claims they are “essential”. Said the health department had been there and they can remain open. Ridiculous.

    • I agree! More calls? City health? Mayor? Gov? Newspaper ? There’s no food, medicine, personal care ? What gives ?

  • Way to go Don. I just googled Hobby Lobby Helena in order to complain and frankly, threaten them (using my legislative title), and got a message that they are now ‘temporarily closed’ due to the coronavirus pandemic. Good journalistic work Don!

    • Good job all. They sell fabric. You know the stuff the great volunteers use make face masks. Thanks for forcing these great persons to fewer outlets and increasing the risk of exposure. And Joann’s is open. Are you going to go after them?

      In partnership with the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, he tested a variety of cloth materials.

      On the left, researchers used a special filtration test to determine how many small particles were blocked with a variety of masks and fabric.

      Regular surgical masks filtered out 62 percent to 65 percent of particles. For comparison, N95 masks filter 95 percent of those particles.

      There were some that performed at 79 percent.

      The best masks were constructed of two layers of heavyweight “quilters cotton” with a thread count of at least 180, and had thicker and tighter weave.

      • Hi Tom,

        I stand corrected, my oops, and appreciate you pointing out that Hobby Lobby sells fabric. My bad, if it’s the case that Hobby Lobby has been selling it for mask making, and if it wasn’t capitalizing on that fact to encourage shoppers to shop throughout their store, which would discourage social distancing and encourage potential virus spread. I didn’t realize HL was selling fabric for mask making. So point taken.

      • Hi Tom,

        Thanks for pointing out that Hobby Lobby sells fabric. I stand corrected, if it’s the case that Hobby Lobby has been selling fabric for mask making. I didn’t realize. So you make a good point, and it’s my oops.

        Be well.

        Warm regards, Mary Ann

        Mary Ann Dunwell House District 84, Helena/East Helena State of Montana maryann.dunwell@mtleg.gov (406) 461-5358 cell/text [ https://www.facebook.com/maryanndunwellforhd84 | https://www.facebook.com/maryanndunwellforhd84 ] @MTMaryAnn PO Box 4656 Helena, MT 59604

        Legislators are publicly elected officials. Legislator emails sent or received involving legislative business may be subject to the Right to Know provisions of the Montana Constitution and may be considered a “public record” pursuant to Montana law. As such, email, sent or received, its sender and receiver, and the email contents, may be subject to public disclosure, except as otherwise provided by Montana law.

    • Rep. Dunwell, can you explain how you would justify using your “legislative title” to “threaten” a business (or anyone for that matter)? Any citations that you might have that allow for this behavior would also be appreciated. Thank you.

      • Hi Sue,

        Thanks for your question. It’s freedom of speech that we all have as Montanans and Americans. My use of the word ‘threaten’ probably wasn’t the best choice. I’d advocate that Hobby Lobby or any company abide by the current guidance. It’s freedom of speech to hold accountable any business that is not abiding by the guidance.

        I’d use that freedom of speech as a legislator elected by the people to represent the people, which includes their health, and as a community member concerned about the health of my community, my family, friends and neighbors. If an out of state corporate business like Hobby Lobby violates the essential businesses directive in Montana, then using my credentials as a state legislator, consumer, community member, and fellow human being, I would exercise that freedom of speech to hold Hobby Lobby accountable, in order to protect the public health of fellow Montanans.

        I hope you and your family are staying safe and well.

        Warmly, Mary Ann

        Mary Ann Dunwell House District 84, Helena/East Helena State of Montana maryann.dunwell@mtleg.gov (406) 461-5358 cell/text [ https://www.facebook.com/maryanndunwellforhd84 | https://www.facebook.com/maryanndunwellforhd84 ] @MTMaryAnn PO Box 4656 Helena, MT 59604

        Legislators are publicly elected officials. Legislator emails sent or received involving legislative business may be subject to the Right to Know provisions of the Montana Constitution and may be considered a “public record” pursuant to Montana law. As such, email, sent or received, its sender and receiver, and the email contents, may be subject to public disclosure, except as otherwise provided by Montana law.

  • Today a friend told me that the fabric store in her town is meeting people at the door and giving them fabric to use. There is no reason for people to congregate inside the store to buy fabric.

  • This article you wrote seems very bias as Michael’s and Joanne’s have been open in every town they are in through this.
    Maybe journalist should write article like the use to with out there own opinion and just about the subject. Hmmmm maybe why people don’t buy news papers or listen to news anymore.

    • This isn’t a newspaper.
      The word newspapers is spelled without a space.
      It’s biased, not bias.
      Without is one word.
      You mean “their,” not “there.”

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