The stay-at-home orders issued for Denver and Colorado as a whole amid the COVID-19 crisis led to the shuttering of many businesses not deemed essential. Local Hobby Lobby stores initially defied these edicts after the owner's wife apparently received a message from God, only to eventually submit to closure after hearing from Colorado's attorney general.
But while Hobby Lobby lost its fight, Appliance Factory stores are winners — sort of. Judging from the total lack of customers at two stores in the metro area we recently visited, the company may be losing more money by remaining in operation than if it locked the doors.
On April 10, Denver authorities had issued citations against both Appliance Factory stores in the city that had remained open. Then, on Sunday, April 12, I noticed that the Appliance Factory shop at 8086 West Bowles Avenue in Littleton was open, albeit utterly deserted, in a center that also had an open branch of Murray's Shoes.
On April 13, I contacted the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to find out if the stay-at-home orders allow individual jurisdictions to have different standards when it comes to designating businesses essential. The answer from CDPHE spokesperson Ian Dickson was a provisional "yes."
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"Counties can put in place more stringent requirements than the state, but not less stringent ones," he wrote via email. "That means that only businesses defined as critical in the statewide order can be considered critical locally. Residents who suspect that someone is violating the order should first contact their local public health agency to report any concerns. Residents may also file a report with the Attorney General’s Office at firstname.lastname@example.org if local law enforcement or a local public health agency is unresponsive."
I also contacted Jefferson County Public Health in regard to the open Murray's Shoes and Appliance Factory stores in Jeffco. In response, department spokesperson Nicole Work said, "Our team reached out to Murray’s Shoes, and they are providing shoes for medical reasons, such as shoes for recent foot surgeries. Their retail sales are shut down."
As for Appliance Factory, Work noted, "We provided notification of violation to the location in Westminster. When we returned for a follow-up, they were closed except for their parts department. After hearing the Littleton location was still open, we followed up, and they said they are fully open for business after a Denver location was initially shut down, then reopened based on their dispute over the legality of being closed down. They have told us they do not plan to close even with notifications being served, and we are looking into potential next steps."
Yes, Denver's Appliance Factory stores are open. Heather Burke at Denver's Joint Information Center, which is coordinating media responses regarding COVID-19 questions, initially confirmed that "Appliance Factory's two locations within the City and County of Denver were recently cited." But then, on April 14, Burke told us: "After review of the citations issued to the Appliance Factory's Denver locations, and discussions with this company, it was determined that the business was operating in compliance with past orders. So, two citations they received on April 10 were dismissed."
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Why? Appliance Factory hasn't responded to multiple inquiries from Westword, and the answer provided by the JIC's Ryan Luby to specific questions about the change in Appliance Factory's status was extremely vague. According to Luby, "We are trying to work with the Appliance Factory to the extent possible. We dismissed their latest citations, issued on April 10 at their Zuni Street and Colorado Boulevard locations, in an effort to show good faith as they work toward compliance under the Public Health Order."
The debate over essential versus non-essential businesses goes beyond Colorado, as witnessed by a recent Politico piece that quoted former Denver city attorney and Denver Post columnist Doug Friednash saying, "In a lot of ways, states and local governments are choosing winners and losers." (Friednash hasn't gotten back to Westword, either.)
Still, the situation may not be that binary. On April 15, I drove past another open Appliance Factory outlet, at 2875 South Santa Fe Drive in Englewood, and it couldn't have seemed more desolate if a tumbleweed had rolled out of the entryway.
Winners and losers, indeed.