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Boston authorities shut down GameStop and stores close statewide

Retailer’s standoff over ‘essential’ business ends in the Bay State

GameStop to Employees: Wrap Your Hands in Plastic and Go Back to Work Photo by Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

State and local authorities in Massachusetts have ordered all GameStops there to close, ending a weeklong standoff in which the games retailer insisted it was an essential business and continued to serve customers with curbside pickups.

The Boston Globe reported on Friday that Boston city inspectors ordered GameStop’s Dorchester location to close down on Tuesday, then visited it on Wednesday to make sure it wasn’t open. The store was not fined but it was given a nuisance citation. GameStop later confirmed to The Globe that it had closed all stores in Massachusetts but didn’t comment further.

Polygon has reached out to a GameStop representative for additional comment on what stores remain open, and why. The company has more than 4,000 locations throughout the United States. It was also fighting for survival before the novel coronavirus swept through the country, forcing business closures, social distancing, and other measures to limit its spread.

On March 19, GameStop insisted that it provided essential services, in a statement that said it also sold “products and devices that are important to facilitate remote work, distance learning, and virtual connectivity.” After taking harsh criticism for keeping stores open, GameStop announced two days later that it was moving its operations online, although it would continue to serve customers with “contactless” curbside pickup.

That meant (according to a memo reported by The Globe) advising employees to wear gloves or even tape plastic bags over their hands, open the front door only slightly while keeping its glass between them and the customer, and handing over whatever they had ordered through the crack.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker ordered all non-essential businesses to close on March 24. GameStop apparently continued to operate in that state for a week before authorities put their foot down. In reply to criticism about the company’s concern for its employees, GameStop said all employees had been told they did not have to work if they did not feel comfortable doing so, and that furloughed workers would be paid for two weeks at their regular rate.

Even in the strong economy preceding COVID-19’s spread, GameStop was hurting badly. Last year, the company reported sharp sales declines and significant quarterly losses, reflecting video game consumers’ increasing shift to online purchasing and delivery of their games. In August, the company laid off almost half the staff of Game Informer magazine, and by the end of the year closed 200 stores, with more closures expected in 2020.

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