A Hobby Lobby spokesman and Early city officials confirmed to the Bulletin on Thursday that the arts and crafts retail chain plans to open a location in Early, Texas in 2018.   

Hobby Lobby communications coordinator Bob Miller said the store is expected to bring 35 to 50 new jobs to the community. The Oklahoma-based Christian company is the largest privately owned arts and crafts retailer in the world, according to its website, and boasts locations in 47 states.   

Early mayor Robert Mangrum said the store will be located in Heartland Mall at the former JCPenney location and that it will total 55,000 square feet. “They’re remodeling the old JCPenney and adding square footage to that area,” he said.   

City administrator Tony Aaron said the city has been in talks with the company since it learned of the JCPenney closure earlier this year. “We knew that, although JCPenney was struggling at that location, that was probably one of the most prime locations for national chain retailers,” he said. “Between Larry McConn with the MDD and our retail consultant … we all just started courting Hobby Lobby, and they seemed to be interested.”   

Mangrum said he’s confident the brand will resonate with Brown County customers. “Every time I take my wife to Abilene, that’s the first place we have to go,” he said. “Over the last 15 years opportunities here locally to buy crafts have declined drastically, so there’s no doubt in my mind that Hobby Lobby will be a successful business here.”   

The addition could have a dramatic impact on the struggling Heartland Mall. “I think it’s going to turn the mall around,” Mangrum said.   

“That whole retail corridor will be impacted by the traffic that goes to that location,” Aaron said. “It’s a game-changer for our economy and a momentum booster we hope to ride for a long time.”   

According to Miller, Hobby Lobby pays $15.70 per hour for full-time employees and $10.45 for part-timers. The company was founded by David and Barbara Green in Oklahoma City in 1972. “Hobby Lobby is primarily an arts-and-crafts store,” its website says, “but also includes hobbies, picture framing, jewelry making, fabrics, floral and wedding supplies, cards and party ware, baskets, wearable art, home accents and holiday merchandise.”   

The company made national headlines in 2014 when it won a landmark Supreme Court decision, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, that exempted it from certain health care regulations because of its Christian ownership. Aaron said the company’s “conservative background” makes it a good fit for the Early and Brown County communities.   

He praised the “team effort” of the city council, the EMDD and the mall owners to bring Hobby Lobby to town. “Projects like this are not easy to attain,” Aaron said. “Without those boards and their leadership, this deal wouldn’t happen.”   

The City of Early aims to hold a formal press conference on the announcement next week.