Twitter Power and the Hobby Lobby

Dec 3, 2010
4

Yesterday an old friend posted on Facebook: "XXX dislikes craft stores (and all stores for that matter) that say, "no nothing Hannukah in here - we are a Christian store. We only celebrate Christmas." Nice." How old is this friend? I used to babysit her and her brother when they were kids. She still lives in our hometown, Columbia, Md. Columbia is a fantastic place to grow up. It is often rated one of the best cities in which one could live, along with neighboring Ellicott City. Columbia is a planned city, and a progressive city. It is zoned to be integrated, in terms of socio-economics, and most schools have a racial and religious mix that is far more diverse than the rest of the country. It is the sort of place I'd like to raise my own children, and the open-minded upbringing I had in Columbia certainly shaped my worldview for the rest of my life.

So, I was shocked when I read that statement. I commented on her status update, telling her I was dumbfounded, and asking which store it was. She replied in a personal message, not on the more public Facebook wall. The store was a Hobby Lobby. It was new to the area. I've seen them down here in Dallas, but I've never been inside one of them. Not that I was avoiding them, I just never had any reason.

Now, before I continue, let me clarify why I think this statement is a problem. I have no issue with stores that don’t carry Hanukkah-themed items. I almost prefer it, even though I celebrate the festival. Hanukkah is a very minor holiday in the Jewish religion. It's more an excuse to give presents and eat potato pancakes than an actual religious ceremony. It is not, as my doctor down here in Dallas recently suggested, the most important holiday on the Jewish calendar. It's not even in the top five.

The reason I have a problem with that statement is precisely because I don't care if a store sells Hanukkah gear or not. I have no problem with stores that are focused on a single holiday. If you celebrate Christmas, I'm sure Christmas Tree Shops is a wonderful store to fit your needs. If there's a customer looking to conveniently fill a need, there can be a store built for that customer. That's capitalism, not religion. If you want to open a store that focuses on Christmas; or Eid al-Fitr, the feast at the end of Ramadan; or Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights; or any other holiday, more power to you. I might not shop there, unless you're selling something that interests me. I certainly wouldn't have any problem with such stores.

Why would a store need to clarify its "No Hanukkah" policy? First, to attract a clientele who are not only interested in a shop with Christian values, but who are also interested in a shop that excludes Hanukkah. After all, does Christmas Tree Shops broadcast their lack of Fourth of July paraphernalia? Of course not. Does Best Buy have to tell you it doesn't sell flags for Bastille Day? No, because Best Buy does not care about attracting customers who shop based on their distaste for the French. But Hobby Lobby apparently wanted to make sure that customers knew they would not find Hanukkah iconography inside.

Second, Hobby Lobby wanted to make sure that anyone looking for Hanukkah supplies would shop for them elsewhere. There are no such supplies at the store. No boxes containing the exact number of candles needed for the eight nights of lighting progressively more candles. No dreidels or menorahs. No decorations with Hebrew lettering. I wouldn't claim that Hobby Lobby hates Jews, but when I heard this, my first thought was that I would not feel welcome at a Hobby Lobby store.

I posted on Twitter: "Hobby Lobby in my hometown has sign: "No hanukkah here, we are a Christian store." Guess I'm not welcome there, will never shop there, ever."

See the logical mistake I made? It's a doozy.

My friend said that she "dislikes craft stores that say . . . ". The emphasis here is obviously mine. I assumed she had read this on a sign. It wasn't a person who had said this, it was a store. When you talk about a person, you use the pronoun "who," not "that." "That" refers to an object or a concept. I believed she had read a sign out in front of the store that made this proclamation about Hanukkah.

My original tweet was retweeted more than most tweets I write. Some interesting people picked up on it and passed it along. Some of those people tried to get the attention of major national news organizations. I figured I would get the jump on this story, so I called the store personally to check my facts.

I talked to a manager named Tom who told me that there was no such sign. He sounded suspicious, but probably because I had identified myself as a writer with SlashGear.com. It is best to be suspicious when a reporter calls. Tom referred me to the corporate Web site for Hobby Lobby. Smart move. The corporate site has no corporate phone number or email address for press inquiries. You have to send a letter by post. If you don't know what that is, it's an archaic way of delivering messages written on paper in slow-moving trucks. Replies can take days, and it costs actual money to send mail.

His denial made me curious, though. If he was denying the sign, I figured, then it must have been taken down, or it would be soon after he hung up. I hoped to find a camera phone picture of the sign. At the least, I wanted to verify exactly what the sign had said.

So, I wrote to my friend. I told her the manager had denied ever having such a sign. Her response? "No sign. What a person told me." That person was dressed better than the rest of the staff, who were wearing aprons while she was not. She was giving staff members directions and instruction. According to my friend, she "looked like a manager."

I was wrong. I got my facts wrong. I implied too much from what I read on Facebook. My tweet was inaccurate, and now it is circulating. I could delete it, but I cannot un-say it.

I still believe my friend and what she heard. In a way, this is not as bad for Hobby Lobby. After all, a printed sign, even handwritten, appears to be a corporate policy set in stone. But in some ways, this is worse. This might have only been one store manager, but it was a store manager with the nerve to look another person in the eye and exclaim "We are a Christian store. We only celebrate Christmas." That's obnoxious, but it's not a corporation being obnoxious, it's a manager with a flawed sense of customer service.

I never suspected this was Hobby Lobby corporate policy. I always figured this was the act of a rogue employee. But I am sorry for making the assumption that I made. When I discovered my mistake, I wrote on Twitter: "I'm chalking this up to a lone employee mistake. They are aware they're being watched. Case closed."

What are the lessons learned? As a reporter, I know better. I need a second source or more specific verification, like a photo, before I write a story. Once a story is out there, riding the ether, it cannot be reigned in easily, if at all.

Also, do not assume that everybody uses perfect grammar. Not everybody was an English major, you dolt.


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