By Nick Romano
March 20, 2020 at 10:11 AM EDT
TANNEN MAURY/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

UPDATE (3/21/20): Following announcements from California Governor Gavin Newsom and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a spokesperson for GameStop told EW that "all GameStop stores have been closed in California" and the company "will be closing all our New York stores Sunday evening."

On Friday, March 20, Cuomo declared new enforceable "P.A.U.S.E." measures in the state of New York that requires 100 percent of the non-essential work force to stay at home beginning Sunday night. Exemptions would be made for "essential services," such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and hospitals.

Earlier in the week, on Thursday, March 19, Newsom signed an executive order instructing all California residents to remain home unless out for essential purposes, such as grocery shopping, picking prescriptions, receiving health care, or traveling to work that is deemed essential.

EARLIER: This week, GameStop inadvertently sparked a firestorm across social media over workers' rights during the coronavirus outbreak.

On Thursday, word broke about a certain memo the company sent to retail staff. The note, which deemed GameStop to be "essential retail," was first uncovered by gaming news outlets Kotaku, VICE Games, and Polygon, and it appeared to instruct stores to remain open in the face of city or state lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic. The company has since responded to the situation in a statement to EW.

"While GameStop is best known as a provider of gaming and home entertainment systems, we also offer a wide array of products and devices that are important to facilitate remote work, distance learning, and virtual connectivity," the statement reads. "As millions of Americans face unprecedented challenges adapting to virtual learning, working, and interaction, there is significant need for technology solutions and we are one of many providers of these products that are remaining open at this time. Schools, businesses and families are now suddenly dependent on being able to connect through technology."

"While there are many businesses and organizations far more critical than ours, we believe we can have a positive impact during this very challenging time," it continues. "The health and safety of our employees and customers is of utmost importance and we have and will continue to take extensive precautions consistent with CDC guidelines. We are complying with all state, county, city, and local ordinances and we will continue to adjust to any future developments."

A spokesperson told EW that news headlines about the "essential retail" memo "unfortunately has taken out of context the positioning we were trying to provide concerning the products GameStop [sells] that does help folks be able to work from home during this unprecedented time."

Multiple outlets separately reported on specific wording and instructions in the memo that was sent to retail store managers by corporate. The contents allegedly included wording that read, "Due to the products we carry that enable and enhance our customers’ experience in working from home, we believe GameStop is classified as essential retail and therefore is able to remain open during this time. We have received reports of local authorities visiting stores in an attempt to enforce closure despite our classification. Store managers are approved to provide the document linked below to law enforcement as needed.”

The "essential retail" portion became the focal point of reactions, especially since, as many online pointed out, most videogames are also available as digital downloads.

“They've essentially said to disobey law enforcement in any state that shuts down non essential retail, as they believe we are providing an essential service to people that shop at a video game store," an anonymous GameStop store employee commented to VICE Games.

Many businesses, both local and national, shut down in the past week to help curb the growing spread of coronavirus. That includes various restaurants, bars, retail stores, and movie theaters. This also feeds growing concerns surrounding workers who can't work from home.

On Wednesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order that mandates businesses relying on in-office personnel reduce in-office workers by 75 percent. Exceptions will be made for "essential service industries," specifically shipping, media, warehousing, grocery and food production, pharmacies, healthcare providers, utilities, banks and related financial institutions, and other industries critical to the supply chain. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti made a similar move in closing all non-essential businesses in the county, including most retail stores.

On Thursday, just as this controversy over GameStop was heating up, the gaming company announced new store hours and policies. Those include restricting store hours from noon-8 p.m. local time, allowing only 10 people in a single store at the same time (including store associates), maintaining "a 6-foot parameter between customers in checkout lines," temporarily suspending trade-in options for gamers, disabling interactive game stations, postponing events (including midnight launch activities), and providing front-door pick-up options for customers.

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