Reopening process in W.Va. sparks questions for some business owners

Published: May. 13, 2020 at 5:33 PM EDT
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As the state of West Virginia reopens during the COVID-19 pandemic, questions about the consistency of what can reopen, and when, are being brought to the attention of WSAZ.

The Hobby Lobby in Barboursville was back open for business Wednesday afternoon. That’s in Cabell County.

WSAZ checked on the location at the Southridge Shopping center in Kanawha County. A note on the door said that location will "reopen when the situation improves."

Hobby Lobby was not on the list of the original essential businesses in the state of West Virginia. When the company asked for a designation to be an essential business because it sells fabric to make masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the state declined that request, Brian Abraham, general counsel to the governor, told WSAZ Wednesday.

When businesses were asked to close and stay-at-home orders were put in place, Hobby Lobby resisted closing in at least two states, saying it was an "essential business."

On April 2, according to a spokesperson for the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, "a trooper did visit the Hobby Lobby, after fielding questions about its status, and had a conversation with the management. After the conversation, the management agreed to close the store."

On April 3, the store announced it would close all of its locations that remained open.

The state's attorneys have talked with Hobby Lobby. According to Abraham they will continue to monitor the situation.

Big box stores in the state of West Virginia like Dick's, Home Goods, and such are allowed to open as a part of the Governor's "Comeback Plan" on Thursday, May 21.

WSAZ has reached out to Hobby Lobby for a comment.

Gov. Jim Justice said tanning salons could reopen on May 21. That has left other personal service professionals to ask why their business can't be given the same consideration.

"You know, we're surely not wanting it unfair, especially to the smaller businesses and everything, but what we're going upon the medical experts, and they're telling us, you know, with a massage, you know, you've got hands-to-hands or hands-to-body, and everything,” Justice said. “And so, when we have personal contact, you know, they're saying, you know just like the rafting industry, you know where you've got eight or nine people in raft and they're really, really close to one another."

The reopening process and guidelines that are being set out by the state are self-policed and mainly on the honor system. However the following guidelines set forth by West Virginia's

say people violating the rule "may be subject to enforcement order issued by the Commissioner or local health officer, and is guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not less than $25, nor more than $200, as provided by W.Va. Code 16-3-2."

Some restaurant owners have said that the ability to open to 50 percent capacity simply does not make sense for them financially.

"I get it that, you know, that at fifty percent, it may not be economical to do it. I get all that and everything, but at the same time, you've got to have some ability to monitor and everything,” Justice said. “You know, people would say, 'Well I can go at ninety-nine percent and keep people apart' and everything. Well, you just ... you just do the best you can do."