The popular craft store chain Hobby Lobby has apologized after a blogger lambasted the company for not carrying Jewish merchandise.
In an interview with the Associated Press, company president Steve Green said that stores near large Jewish populations in New York and New Jersey will likely soon begin carrying various items starting this November.
"We do not have any problems selling items that celebrate Jewish holidays," Green said. "We have in the past and have decided we would try it again in some of the markets where we have Jewish population."
Green didn't specify which products the company would sell. The initial controversy started when Ken Berwitz, a writer and focus group moderator, blogged about an experience his friend allegedly had at a Hobby Lobby location. When Berwitz's acquaintance asked an employee why Hanukkah items weren't sold in stores, the worker purportedly replied, "We don’t cater to you people."
Berwitz, who was stunned, then called a New Jersey branch and asked the same question. He says a worker told him that Jewish merchandise isn't carried in stores because the Green family is Christian. This led the man to claim that he won't ever step in a Hobby Lobby again.
In this Nov. 1, 2012 file photo, customers walk to a Hobby Lobby store in Dallas. Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby says the chain will start carrying Jewish merchandise in some of its stores after a New Jersey blogger complained about a lack of Hanukkah items. The change came about after blogger Ken Berwitz said a Hobby Lobby employee told him that the chain doesn't stock Jewish merchandise because the Green family is Christian. (AP)
A blog entry detailing these purported developments quickly went viral, leading Hobby Lobby to issue an official response to the claims.
In an Oct. 3 statement, Green apologized to anyone who was offended by the employees' alleged statement, specifically Jewish customers and friends.
"Our family has a deep respect for the Jewish faith and those who hold its traditions dear. We're proud contributors to Yad Vashem, as well as to other museums and synagogues in Israel and the United States," the statement read. "We are investigating this matter and absolutely do not tolerate discrimination at our company or our stores. We do not have any policies that discriminate; in fact, we have policies that specifically prohibit discrimination."
Berwitz followed-up his original blog entry with a note that he and Green spoke via phone following media furor. The two discussed the company's policies and practices and discussed the resulting debate. Here's just a portion of that blog entry:
I started by apologizing to him - more exactly, to his father - for the last line of my blog ("david green can go to hell"). It was not a very nice thing to say, it was written in anger, and, at that time, I had no idea of how many people would actually be reading it (not that this really matters; if it's wrong, it's wrong). Steve was gracious enough to accept my apology - which I asked that he pass along to his father, who, I hope, accepts it as well.
Steve then assured me in strongest terms that, my observations notwithstanding, Hobby Lobby not only is not intentionally refusing to stock Jewish-oriented items, but that it is very supportive and respectful of Jews, and is a very pro-Israel organization. (I would assume the Greens' support of Israel is, in no small part, related to belief in the biblical prophecies that Israel would once again be created as a Jewish state, but we certainly did not get into any theological discussion).
As the AP notes, Hobby Lobby's faith has never been concealed or downplayed. Stores are closed on Sundays and the Green family is currently planning to construct a Bible museum in Washington, D.C. Additionally, a battle continues between the company and the federal government over the controversial contraception mandate.
The Anti-Defamation League, a group that fights anti-Semitism, also issued a press release over the weekend accepting Green's apology and clarifying its stance on the matter.
Hobby Lobby President Steve Green and his mother Barbara Green stand outside the federal courthouse in Oklahoma City on Friday, July 19, 2013. (AP)
"We are satisfied with the apology of Hobby Lobby and appreciate the company’s efforts to investigate the incident and to ensure that it does not happen again," the statement said. "Since the allegations about the employee’s comments first came to light, Hobby Lobby’s representatives have been in direct contact with ADL and have assured us in unequivocal terms that their company has a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination and that decisions on the merchandise they carry are based on consumer demand, not out of a lack of respect for other faiths."
With these developments, the debate has now tempered. While Hobby Lobby had allegedly made its business decisions based on demand (or a lack thereof), it appears the popular craft chain will now take a closer look at the populations it serves to ensure that relevant products are on shelves.
(H/T: Associated Press)