Colorado businesses face warnings, adjustments under stay-at-home order

Some stores, including Hobby Lobby, raise red flags amid COVID-19 restriction


A local bicycle shop seeing more demand. Record stores leaning on mail service just to survive. A large craft store chain defying the government and staying open amid the pandemic.

COVID-19 has drawn a line in the sand for businesses — critical vs. noncritical, as deemed by the state — and it's a distinction that has cost thousands of jobs across Colorado as the state's restrictions on which businesses can operate remain in place for at least the next few weeks.

“It's been really tough, honestly. We had to let most of our staff go,” said Michael Baca, a manager at Black and Read book and music store in Arvada.

The shop temporarily closed a few days before the state ordered “noncritical” businesses to reduce their in-person workforce by 50% by March 24. Then came Colorado's stay-at-home order, tightening the grip even further and effectively closing many noncritical businesses altogether.

Bicycle repair shops landed on the long list of critical industries, along with health care, infrastructure, agriculture, grocery stores and many more — a turn of luck that's working out well for The Bicycle Shack in Arvada.

“We've actually seen a pretty big influx of — I don't know if you'd call it `panic bicycle buying,' ” laughed Brian Shuey, a manager at the shop, who guessed that the bump in demand might be the normal rush the store sees in spring amid tax returns.

Although the shop can stay open, it has taken steps to reduce the number of people inside at one time — the stay-at-home order requires businesses to keep people at least 6 feet apart as much as possible.

Then there was Hobby Lobby, a craft store giant that stayed open in spite of the state's order, arguing it provided “essential products” amid the pandemic in an April 3 statement. The company received a letter dated April 1 from the Colorado Attorney General's Office demanding that it close.

“For the avoidance of doubt, and as you have been previously notified, Hobby Lobby is not a 'critical business' and is not otherwise exempt,” the letter says.

'We're hanging in there'

The staff at Black and Read is smaller than many other businesses that have been forced to close to the public, but the music shop is still feeling the impact.

“It's been rough — we're hanging in there,” said Baca, whose shop let go of about five employees and told them to file for unemployment assistance. He hopes to bring them back when the economy starts to revive.

The employees still on board saw their hours cut, and some come to the shop to list items for sale online.

“We'll ship to anyone we could,” said Baca, who uses platforms such as Amazon to keep sales afloat.

Under the state's order, noncritical businesses are allowed to perform “minimum basic operations,” such as building and inventory maintenance, payroll and activities that facilitate employees working from home, said Gary Sky, spokesman for Tri-County Health Department, which covers Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.

Tri-County was seeking clarification from the state regarding noncritical businesses filling delivery orders, Sky said.

Record shops aren't considered critical businesses under Colorado's order, but if a business is closed to customers, it can still operate, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. At least one other record shop in the west Denver metro area had announced its plan to continue mail service.

“The orders cannot anticipate every circumstance, which is why the governor has stressed the importance of following the spirit of the order and not seeking loopholes,” the department said in a statement. “A single person working alone in a workspace that is closed to other people would not violate the order.”

Other stores of all kinds around the metro area have shut down for now, such as Forever Flowers and Gifts, a family-owned business in east Centennial along Smoky Hill Road.

“We are all healthy and safe as of the close of business on Wednesday, March 25,” a voicemail recording for the business said. “We sincerely have the best wishes for the health, safety and prosperity of all our customers. We look forward to serving again serving your floral needs whenever we are able to reopen.”

In Westminster, Catherines plus-size apparel shop left a message on its Google Maps listing.

“For the well-being of our store associates and customers, our stores are closed temporarily. We will keep you informed as our stores reopen. We look forward to serving you with styles that love you on”

Warnings, voluntary compliance

Hobby Lobby is one of the most high-profile businesses to defy stay-at-home orders, and the letter it received from the state Attorney General's Office April 1 directed all of the company's Colorado locations to immediately close.

At the Hobby Lobby in Parker on April 1, a co-manager said the store was open but that by the next day it was to close based on instructions from his superior.

The store had not received complaints from employees about staying open, and it had not been contacted by authorities about the stay-at-home order, said the co-manager, Oscar, who did not feel comfortable giving a last name.

The company said in an April 3 news release: “We know our customers relied on us to provide essential products, including materials to make personal protective equipment, such as face masks, educational supplies for the countless parents who are now educating their children from home, and the thousands of small arts and crafts businesses who rely on us for supplies to make their products.”

The company announced it was temporarily closing all of its locations effective the night of April 3.

The Colorado Attorney General's Office did not comment on where else it has seen reports of noncritical businesses requiring employees to come to work.

“We are unable to discuss specific companies or details about the types of reports we are receiving at this time. We are working with the state health department, local agencies, and the governor's office to review reports, determine which post the greatest risk to public health and safety and (on) appropriate enforcement action,” said Lawrence Pacheco, spokesman for the office.

Tri-County Health Department has resolved many reports of violations through education and voluntary compliance, according to Sky.

“We have received 244 complaints, and most are able to be resolved over the phone,” Sky said April 3. “We have issued two formal warnings to businesses who have failed to come into compliance with the public health order.”

That includes one bar or restaurant and one retail facility.


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