Police say craft stores and CBD stores ‘non-essential’ must close
GREEN BAY – Two Brown County Hobby Lobby stores closed on Wednesday on police instruction with the latest closures related to business claims falsely remaining open as “essential businesses.”
Communities across Wisconsin continue to grapple with what constitutes an essential business under Gov. Tony Evers’ emergency order and what to do with businesses that disagree with their name.
Evers’s “Safer at Home” order of March 25 shut down many businesses, but allowed a long list of others deemed essential to continue operating, in order to help slow the spread of the coronavirus in Wisconsin. The order ordered local police departments and county sheriff’s offices to enforce the order and authorized a fine of up to $ 250 and 30 days in jail for the violations.
Local law enforcement says complaints from the Evers order have focused on two areas: social distancing violations and businesses like craft stores and CBD stores that have remained open. The Brown County Sheriff’s Office has registered 17 complaints to date. They included a photography business, an open quilt shop, people drinking in closed bars, and concerns about violations of social distancing requirements. The Green Bay Police Department received 55 complaints.
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At Hobby Lobby stores in Wisconsin, here’s what happened:
- In Green Bay, Police Lt. Steve Maloney said he worked with Ashwaubenon Public Safety to close Green Bay area locations on Pilgrim Road and in East Town Mall. Mahoney said the two store managers had agreed to close when operations ended on Wednesday and comply with the order going forward.
- In the Milwaukee area, signs at Hobby Lobby stores said on Tuesday they were “operating as an essential business” by “providing PPE mask supplies, educational supplies, office supplies and various components for small businesses. at home, âaccording to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Five Hobby Lobby stores were closed by police Monday and Tuesday in the Milwaukee area.
- In the Appleton area, the Grand Chute Police Department has ordered the closure of three craft stores and several CBD stores.
- The Rib Mountain Hobby lobby opened on Tuesday, but displayed a sign on its front door advising patrons that it would close this afternoon and remain closed until the order is lifted, “based on advice of public health officials “.
- In Manitowoc, police are seeking legal advice on whether they can force the closure of a still open Hobby Lobby.
Grand Chute police officer Travis Waas said the goal of enforcing Evers’ order was to be consistent in all cases, but it can be difficult. He said some companies perform both essential and non-essential functions. Police will look to the state for guidance as new gray areas emerge.
Some nuance of their responses can be found by examining how different communities in Wisconsin approached Hobby Lobby, Joann Fabrics, and similar craft stores. The stores reopened after the Evers order took effect, saying they could operate as “essential businesses” because their products include materials for making face masks and work-from-home equipment.
A call to Hobby Lobby’s head office was not answered and voicemail was not available.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. works with law enforcement agencies to provide clarification where it can, but continues to respond to thousands of requests for information. As of Friday, WEDC was only able to respond to about half of the nearly 3,000 inquiries from companies wondering where they fell under the order.
Many of the questions WEDC addressed focused on multi-faceted businesses that have a mix of essential and non-essential functions such as landscapers who could deliver backfill to construction sites (essential) and run a retail store (no. essential). There was also pressure to get golf courses deemed essential.
Lt. Kevin Pawlak of the Brown County Sheriff’s Office said the department keeps a complaints spreadsheet and will investigate urgent matters and repeat complaints about a single company. So far, he said 12 businesses have been reported by citizens and only one has received a formal warning. No citation was issued.
Mahoney, who heads the community policing division of the Green Bay Police Department, said the department is working to voluntarily comply with the order.
He said agents would visit open and non-essential businesses with a copy of the Evers order and review the details with them. If they don’t agree to shut down, officers will order them to shut down and get clarification from WEDC.
âWe say, ‘Shut it down and get it from WEDC (which you are essential) and we’ll let you reopen,â âsaid Mahoney.
Mahoney said only one company refused the ministry’s shutdown request during an investigation with WEDC during the week the order was in effect. The business has been referred to the office of Brown County District Attorney David Lasee for a decision on whether to lay charges.
He said the police department regularly consulted with WEDC and the Green Bay City Attorney’s Office when considering enforcement action.
Mahoney said he hopes more companies will exercise caution as the number of COVID-19 cases in the region continues to rise.
âWe realize these are tough economic times, but for everyone’s safety, if your business isn’t essential, do the right thing and shut down your business,â said Mahoney. “If you don’t, it could extend the ‘Safer at Home’ command.”
Journalist Craig Hogg of Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and journalists Maureen Wallenfang and Patti Zarling of USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin contributed to this report.