By Bob Uphues
Competition for the dollars of local crafters will get a little more intense later this year, when Hobby Lobby opens its doors at 7451 Cermak Road in North Riverside, the former longtime home of Toys R Us, which closed in 2018.
North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. confirmed that the arts-and-crafts retailer had signed a lease with the owners of the property and that the company's architect had submitted detailed building plans and a building permit application with the North Riverside Building Department.
"Obviously the village is very happy," said Hermanek. "Hobby Lobby is a national powerhouse and it's a great location."
Toys R Us closed last summer during a particularly brutal year for commercial retailing in North Riverside. Last year also saw the closure of Carson Pirie Scott, a 40-plus year anchor of North Riverside Park Mall, as well as the downsizing of another mall anchor, Sears.
Fallas, a clothing retailer, also closed last year at the mall, while Payless Shoes announced it was closing both of its North Riverside locations. To top it off, the village's largest grocery store, Tony's Finer Foods, packed up and moved across Harlem Avenue to a bigger location in Berwyn.
Hobby Lobby's plans were submitted June 10 and are under review. The village is likely to expedite that review and the company could have the OK to proceed within a week or two.
Plans indicate that the approximately 45,000-square-foot building will undergo a fairly extensive interior remodel and some changes to the exterior. Hermanek said the parking lot will be improved as part of the deal.
It's not clear just how long Hobby Lobby officials expect the renovations to take, but village officials believed the work to be minor enough that it would likely be open this fall.
Hobby Lobby did not immediately respond to an email from the Landmark seeking more information.
When it opens, Hobby Lobby will immediately pose tough competition for Michaels, another arts-and-crafts retailer at 7231 24th St., a stone's throw away in the North Riverside Plaza shopping center.
While Michaels operates more stores nationally than Hobby Lobby and compares favorably to it, the latter's footprint in North Riverside will be roughly double that of Michaels and it will be located directly on Cermak Road, with a parking lot of its own.
Landing Hobby Lobby will help replace Toys R Us' lost sales tax revenue, but the company is not without its critics and in recent years has waded into controversy due to its owners' strong evangelical Christian beliefs.
In 2017, Hobby Lobby agreed to pay a $3 million fine and return thousands of ancient Middle Eastern artifacts the company had purchased, reportedly for display in the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., in which Hobby Lobby invested heavily.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the artifacts "were smuggled into the United States through the United Arab Emirates and Israel, contrary to federal law" and shipped to Hobby Lobby in packages whose shipping labels "falsely described cuneiform tablets as tile 'samples.'"
Earlier, Hobby Lobby made news when it sued for an exemption from a requirement of the Affordable Care Act requiring corporations to pay for medical insurance coverage for contraceptives.
The U.S. Supreme Court later sided with the company, ruling that the requirement violated the family-owned company's First Amendment rights regarding religious freedom.
Hobby Lobby, which operates about 850 stores in the U.S., wears its religious principles on its sleeve. The company's website states Hobby Lobby is committed to "honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles" and that it is closed on Sundays.