Hobby Lobby’s religious convictions aren’t for sale

Hobby Lobby’s religious convictions aren’t for sale

Friday, January 10, 2014 6:29pm

ZEPHYRHILLS — The first clue that Hobby Lobby isn’t your typical retail business is a sign at the front door saying the craft store is closed on Sundays “to allow employees time for family and worship.”

Once inside, other clues dot the shelves, from the large selection of religious crosses to the decorations quoting biblical verses. Listen closely and you can hear Christian songs playing in the background.

The faith-based subtleties are backed by conviction. David Green and his family founded Hobby Lobby more than four decades ago with the guiding mission to run the business in a way that brings glory to God. Over the years, Green has donated an estimated $500 million to Christian charities, including Oral Roberts University, of which his son Mart Green is board chairman.

Those beliefs are a footnote to most shoppers, who spend more than $3 billion a year on picture frames, craft supplies and home decor items. Even fewer know the Oklahoma-based chain is at the center of a U.S. Supreme Court dispute over a federal health care law mandate requiring employers to cover abortion-inducing drugs.

Last week, Hobby Lobby opened its second store in the Tampa Bay area, at 7333 Gall Blvd. in Zephyrhills in Pasco County. City Manager Jim Drumm described it as a big deal for the rural city of 15,000, where residents are used to driving a long way to get to top retail brands. A craft store had ranked high on a recent Chamber of Commerce survey asking what goods and services residents wanted in their community. Several singled out Hobby Lobby by name.

“We have a fair number of retirees, and a lot of times when you are retired, you have a lot of time on your hands and want to take up new hobbies,” Drumm said. “People were really happy when Hobby Lobby was announced.”

The store took over a Sweetbay supermarket that closed last year as part of a chainwide contraction that affected 33 underperforming locations. Hobby Lobby co-manager Kevin Ross said shoppers lined up outside before the soft opening on Jan. 31, and more than one customer has remarked that the store is busier than it ever was as Sweetbay. A surprising top seller so far? Yarn.

David Green founded Hobby Lobby out of his Oklahoma City garage in 1970. The son of a preacher, he and his wife, Barbara, started out making decorative frames, then added craft supplies, home decor and holiday decorations. They opened their first store in 1972 and have since expanded to more than 550 locations nationwide. The first Tampa Bay store opened in late 2010 in New Port Richey, another community a long way from the urban core.

Hobby Lobby chooses places where it can rent big-box buildings at an affordable rate. It doesn’t target the corner of Main and Main, like Trader Joe’s, which is opening stores along Fourth Street in St. Petersburg and off Dale Mabry Highway in South Tampa. It also doesn’t need to be across from International Plaza, like the Container Store.

Hobby Lobby usually leases space previously occupied by another retailer. Former supermarkets, hardware stores and Kmarts in mid- to higher-income suburban areas are prime sites, said Justin Greider, vice president of Florida retail brokerage at Jones Lang LaSalle commercial real estate. The space costs 50 to 70 percent of what a new building would cost.

“They are very, very sensitive to the amount of money they can pay in rent,” he said. “They are focused on families with some disposable income who like scrapbooking and decorating, but are price sensitive. They aren’t competing with upper-income stores like Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel.”

On average, stores draw from a 10- to 15-mile radius, significantly farther than a 3-mile reach for a grocery store or 5 to 7 miles for a Target. That makes it possible, for instance, to add a store in Carrollwood or Brandon but still attract shoppers from Tampa’s urban core, Greider said.

Hobby Lobby stores can be as large as 90,000 square feet but, more recently, have taken over smaller retail space in order to facilitate growth. By comparison, Michaels and Jo-Ann stores are about 20,000 to 25,000 square feet.

Hobby Lobby has been referred to as a combo Michaels, Kirkland’s and Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft store on steroids. Stores carry 70,000 products, many of which are made at the company’s manufacturing plant in Oklahoma. By comparison, Michaels, which has twice the number of stores, carries 37,000 items.

Hobby Lobby has been successful in more remote communities like Zephyrhills and New Port Richey, which have limited retail options, real estate officials said. In the case of the newest store, the nearest Michaels is 15 miles away in Wesley Chapel. The nearest Jo-Ann store is 24 miles away in New Tampa.

“If you locate in a more rural area, you tend to have the entire market to yourself,” said David Conn, executive vice president of retail services for CBRE commercial real estate in Tampa. “You’re not splitting the market with other competitors, and it’s unlikely a competitor will go there.”

Closing on Sundays, while welcomed by many employees and believers, comes at a price, he said. Competitors are open daily and have longer hours. Hobby Lobby operates 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. six days a week — a total of 66 hours, while Michaels is typically open 81 hours a week. To stay competitive, Hobby Lobby needs less expensive rent in areas with likely shoppers.

“It all comes down to the bottom line,” Conn said. “They are running a business. They aren’t selling Bibles.”

hobby lobby

Hobby Lobby has earned a reputation as a strong, solid retailer, particularly among government and real estate officials who have dealings with the company. The chain carries no long-term debt and starts its full-time hourly workers at 90 percent above the federal minimum wage — about $14 an hour — compared to other retailers that start at minimum wage. David Green, who owns the entire business with his wife and three children, was ranked 246th on Forbes’ list of world billionaires in 2013, with a net worth of $4.5 billion.

The family’s religious beliefs run companywide. The chain employs chaplains to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of its employees, who come from all faiths, a company spokesman said. Gruesome or bloody Halloween decorations are strictly prohibited.

Though not as widely known as Truett Cathy and his family from Chick-fil-A (another business closed on Sundays), the Greens are big names in Christian circles. Last week, Hobby Lobby president Steve Green, one of the sons, appeared on the Trinity Broadcasting Network to talk about his family’s collection of 40,000 biblical documents and artifacts, which is said to be the largest private compilation of its kind in the world. Items from the Green Collection have been on display in St. Peter’s Square and Vatican City and are part of a traveling exhibit called “Passages,” currently in Colorado Springs. Eventually, the Greens plan to open a museum for their collection in Washington, D.C.

It hasn’t been without controversy. A few months ago, Hobby Lobby officials apologized after complaints that the stores didn’t carry Jewish merchandise. As a result, the company said it would sell some items at stores near large Jewish populations in New York and New Jersey before Hanukkah.

In September 2012, Hobby Lobby filed a lawsuit against the federal government opposing a requirement that it provide the “morning-after pill” and “week-after pill” for free under its insurance plan. Compliance, the family said, would violate its religious beliefs.

Hobby Lobby won on an appeal but in October joined the government in asking the Supreme Court to take up the case. The court agreed in November and is expected to issue a ruling by June.

More than 90 lawsuits have been filed by nonprofit and for-profit groups nationwide against the Health and Human Services mandate involving contraceptives. Hobby Lobby is the only non-Catholic-owned business to sue and, so far, its case is just one of two headed to the Supreme Court.

Officials at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Washington, D.C., law firm that is representing Hobby Lobby for free, said a court victory would prevent the Greens from having to choose between violating their faith and violating the law.

“They hold their religious convictions closely. They are very sincere in that,” said Becket Fund spokeswoman Emily Hardman. “They just want to operate their business the way they have been.”

Mark Rutland: 10 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was 21.

Mark Rutland

Mark Rutland: 10 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was 21
Mark Rutland

You might think you’re smart when you get out of college, but I suggest that the real education is only just the beginning.

In an Amish kitchen in Bird-in-Hand, Pa., in the heart of Dutch country, I saw a sign I’ll never forget: “Too soon old, too late smart.” When I saw it, I thought it was memorable but hardly meaningful. I was 21. Now the words are meaningful, but I can barely remember the farmhouse. I am 64.

Sometimes I have the fantasy that I will sit up on my deathbed and cry out, “Oh, I get it,” and lie down again and die. The Amish have it right.

Recently a friend said he wished he were 21 again. The thought held little interest for me, but he made an intriguing counteroffer: What if you could be 21 and know what you know now?

That held more allure, but it begged a question: What, if anything, do I now know that I wish I had known at 21?

I came up with 10 things, none of which I think I would have placed on my priority list at age 21.

1. Inner healing is greater than outward success. It is probably impossible to arrive at 21, let alone 64, without wounds in the inner person—deep wounds that need God’s healing grace. The more I see of inner healing and the more I face up to my own inner wounds, the more I wish I had let Messiah touch my deepest hurts earlier in life. That childhood hurt, that hidden outrage, that long-suppressed horrific memory can lurk like a monster in the basement waiting for years, even decades, to rise and wreak havoc.

Hiding the monster, denying that it’s down there, is a dangerous game. The temptation is to create an alternative reality where success and accomplishment and appearances seem so very real and the monster but a mirage. If I were 21 again I would bore down into the inner world of me and find Christ’s healing touch in the darkness under the floorboards.

2. Mercy is greater than justice. I have found that many in the church want the wayward to “get what’s coming to them.” Too often, there is a shortage of mercy among the followers of Christ, who blessed the merciful in His most famous message, the Sermon on the Mount. Were I 21 again, I would learn and practice mercy, knowing that later I would need it.

Churches, boards, denominations and individual believers who hanker for justice when a colleague stumbles may be planting for a bitter harvest. They gloat over the sins of others, humiliate the fallen and demand their administrative pound of flesh.

Competitiveness and legalism are the death of mercy. Mercy makes love real, acceptance and understanding a practice, and tenderness a way of life.

3. Kindness is better than being right. Just before my friend Jamie Buckingham died, I asked him for a word of wisdom. He said, “It is better to be kind than to be right.”

At 21, I advocated my positions too aggressively. I argued with an eye toward winning, unconcerned about the heart of my “adversary,” who may not have been adversarial at all. I made debate a contact sport. In preaching I let the bad dog off the chain, to the applause of the gallery.

Should time travel be mine and were I to be back in the land of 21, I would be kinder and less concerned with being right. Too many young adults give little thought to kindness.

They Twitter hurtful words like poisonous birds. Their humor is mocking, acidic and unkind. And they are more concerned with being thought clever than with being kind. The value of gentleness has declined on the world market; if I were 21 again I would wish to know the worth of a kind word.

4. Serving is better than being served. Encircled by their entourages, the “success” merchants of modern Christianity place high dividends on being catered to. When I was a pastor, the church I led invited a singing group to come minister. Their list of special demands, including a particular type of orange cut into equal fourths (I kid you not), was five pages long. We canceled.

I wish I had known at 21 how hollow is all that outward stuff. I wish I had known that caring, not being cared for, is what Christ had in mind.

I wish I had changed more diapers instead of leaving that to my wife. I wish I had served more meals, carried more bags, held more doors and lightened more burdens.

5. Brokenness is the doorway to wholeness. This mysterious paradox was hidden from me at 21. I feared brokenness. I ran from it, and when it got too close fought it off with all my might.

If I had but known brokenness was the key to my healing, it would have lifted such fear from me. I thought it would maim me at least and maybe even kill me. Now I know that there is very little real wholeness that does not emerge from real brokenness.

6. Truth is liberating and devastating. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” My friend Jamie tacked on, “But first it will make you miserable.”

How true. There is a phrase popular among many young adults that I quite like despite my usual distaste for pop jingoes. It is, “Keep it real.” I am not sure of all that is meant by it, but I know what I mean by it.

I wish I had known not to fear the truth about myself. I wish I had known that the temporary misery of the truth was worth going through to find the freedom that it brings.

7.Learning is greater than education. I am a university president, and Oral Roberts University (ORU) is a great university. I am not saying that higher education is unimportant. What I am saying is, I hated getting educated.

At 21, I was a miserable college senior. I was a miserable student from the first grade right through high school and on through three degrees. I was miserable because I did not understand the connection between education and learning.

If I were 21 again, I would still go to college. But this time I would go to learn not just to graduate. I would unleash my curiosity, embrace the process, worry less about my grades and enjoy learning.

How strange that I love to learn at the age I am now. I read voraciously—any subject. I want to know, to understand, to go deeper. If I were 21 again I would take that to college.

8. Giving is sweeter than gaining.I believe in the laws of the harvest. If there is any place in the world that understands “seed faith” it is ORU. Seed faith is not a new idea to me. I believed it at 21. I practiced it and am blessed today because it is real.

Yet I wish that at 21 I had known the sheer joy of giving. I know God will bless us when we give, and sometimes we have made this merely a method to gain. I wish I had realized the joy of generosity. I would have given more and delighted more in the good that giving does and less in the returns it provides.

9.Forgiveness doesn’t fix everything. Not the happiest truth I wish I had known, but it’s among the most sobering. Had I known this I might have been less callous, less reckless and more mindful of the cost.

There are things, relationships and hearts that once broken cannot be fully “fixed” by forgiveness. The wound, the uncaring and insensitive word—they may be forgiven, but the damage from them may never quite be right again.

When I was 21 I just wanted to be forgiven. I wish I had known to do less damage.

10. Prayer is more powerful than persuasion. In all of life, at every age, conflict is an inescapable reality. I wish I had known younger that in conflict and crisis talking to God works better than talking to people. At 21, due perhaps to youthful arrogance, I thought that I could talk my way through everything.

Self-sufficiency, a dangerous habit, breeds prayerlessness. The older I get I find that crisis drives me faster to my knees and more slowly to the phone.

I have seen God turn hearts around, change organizations and melt opposition by prayer alone—when no persuasive speech could have made a difference. If I were 21 again, I would spend more time talking with God and less (far less) persuading others to do what I want.

I wish I had known more than I did at 21. I might have considered one or two of these truths, but I doubt I would have fully appreciated their value.

I do not think I want to be 21 again. But if I had to, if some evil genie made me go back and live it all over, then these are the things I would want to know and the things I would want to believe.