Essential? Retailers Like Guitar Center and Michaels Think They Are

The company provides products for small businesses like those on Etsy and has been promoting material that volunteers can make into masks and gowns for health care providers, he said. The health care efforts were outlined Friday in a release, which also advertised temporary sewing stations at stores.

“What we’re doing now is akin to some of the wartime efforts,” Mr. Miquelon said.

More than half of Joann stores are restricted to curbside pickups and shipping from stores. But Mr. Miquelon noted that e-commerce orders could take four to five days and said he did not intend to follow electronics retailers like Best Buy and GameStop in limiting all shopping to curbside pickups.

Joann, based in Hudson, Ohio, was looking at new protections like masks and gloves for its store employees, and protocols for social distancing at cash registers, he said.

“I get employees have anxiety now, but we’re not making anybody work,” Mr. Miquelon said. “We are trying to do everything we can to help customers, help the supply chain, keep people safe and make sure people have a job and food on the table when this thing is over.”

Joann, which employs about 22,000 in its stores, has granted more than 500 leave-of-absence requests, a spokeswoman said on Tuesday. Closed stores are paying typical wages to affected employees for the next two weeks, she said.

A letter from Joann management given to employees to share described the chain’s “Essential Business Activities” as a supplier to home-based businesses and health care professionals. The letters for Sears and Kmart employees says that “essential businesses including hardware stores are permitted to stay open,” and that staff are therefore exempt from emergency closure orders.

RH, the high-end furniture chain formerly known as Restoration Hardware, is still operating a busy call center in Tracy, Calif., known internally as a “Delight Center,” even after closing its stores, said an employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their job. Employees who have asked to work from home were told that it was too costly and difficult to set up. After an employee was stopped on the way to the center by law enforcement and told to go home, the company gave employees a letter to show the police in the future, the person said.

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