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INGRID JACQUES

Jacques: Confusion over stay-home order leads to car-seat ban at UP store

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

On Friday evening, Tori Sachs posted a photo on Twitter that a friend had shared with her on Facebook. 

The photograph depicted child car seats cordoned off with yellow tape at an Upper Peninsula Walmart.

Ridiculous, right? And potentially dangerous for parents in need of the safety device. 

A mother who lives in Ironwood had taken photos from a trip that day to the store and shared them. Sachs, in her early 30s, is the same age as this woman, and is the mom of three young daughters, with another baby on the way. 

For Sachs, this seemed very wrong, and she wanted to draw attention to the problem so that it could be fixed. 

This was the day after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer tightened and extended her stay-home executive order, with additional restrictions on big-box stores like Walmart. Hundreds of these stores around the state have scrambled to interpret the governor’s new demands, as the state seeks to fight COVID-19.

Whitmer’s office said Sunday her order was not intended to ban the sale of children’s cars seats.

But many have complained that the order is arbitrary and vague, leaving retail outlets and other businesses in a difficult position of trying to muddle through what is “essential” for customers and what isn’t.

Marijuana and alcohol sales can continue, for instance, but garden seeds and paint are off limits. 

More:Marijuana sales bloom during COVID-19 outbreak

More:Critics: Why are Michigan's restrictions different than other states'?

“Large stores must also close areas of the store that are dedicated to carpeting, flooring, furniture, garden centers, plant nurseries, or paint,” the order states. 

So a manager or an employee at this particular Walmart had interpreted this to mean taping off the car seat aisle. 

Sachs’ tweet was pretty straightforward. She included the photo and wrote this: “Per order from @GovWhitmer, people in Michigan are now banned from purchasing a new baby car seat in stores. This is dangerous and this order needs clarification immediately.”

But her tweet started taking off, and has since gone viral with thousands of retweets and likes. 

An hour or so after she posted this, she says she got a call from Erik Hingst, a Michigan-based director of public affairs and government relations for Walmart. Sachs says Hingst asked her to take down the tweet and accused her of spreading fake news. But Sachs knew the photo was legitimate and didn’t think that was a fair request.

The call didn’t go well. Afterward, according to Sachs, she texted him saying: “This picture was taken in Michigan today. If you’ll send me a written statement attributed to Walmart that this was a single store mistake as a result of confusion with the executive order, I’ll take the tweet down and share that statement in its place.” 

Yet Sachs says Hingst didn’t do that and instead threatened to call everyone Sachs has worked with in Lansing until she took down the photo. She started getting other calls from lobbyists that night — all men — informing her she should remove the photo. 

Sachs is a Republican consultant who worked with former Gov. Rick Snyder and then ran U.S. Senate candidate John James’ 2018 campaign. She doesn’t appreciate her work and reputation being threatened over trying to do the right thing.

What’s ironic is that Sachs didn’t draw attention to this having happened at a Walmart. And plenty of other Michigan residents — including some state lawmakers — have also posted pictures of what they’ve seen at stores following Whitmer’s order, from taped-off seed aisles to mosquito spray. 

While this particular lobbyist doesn’t seem to have handled the situation well, it is not Walmart’s fault. The chain and others like it deserve some slack as they try to adjust to the new framework. 

In fact, when I called Hingst to get a comment, he told me he didn’t have time because he was unloading a shipment of thousands of donated masks and other personal protective equipment from Walmart’s corporate office. 

As Sachs says: “The big problem here is Whitmer’s order and its lack of clarity. There’s no reason for people to attack me or anyone else just documenting what is going on as a result of the confusion Whitmer has made.”

ijacques@detroitnews.com 

Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques