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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Landscaping companies, gun stores, golf courses, live wrestling matches: Businesses considered "essential" in one state aren't designated the same way in others.

Why it matters: A patchwork of coronavirus-era policies is causing confusion — plus envy and resentment — across the country, with calls for clearer federal guidelines about what should and shouldn't remain open.

There's consensus about a handful of obvious essentials, like hospitals and grocery stores. But others are more controversial:

  • Hobby Lobby, the crafts chain that kept doors open because it sells "essential" supplies to make masks and other personal protective equipment, defied initial orders from a number of states to close.
  • Bath & Body Works, which specializes in fragranced toiletries, made the case that it sells soaps and hand sanitizers — and some of stores were reportedly given the go-ahead to reopen in Ohio after initially closing.
  • In Florida, World Wrestling Entertainment was deemed an essential business by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who argued that Americans were bored by reruns of televised sports, telling reporters: "People have been starved for content."

The backstory: The federal government released guidance on what industries could remain open, though it's left to states — and sometimes cities — to decide who is allowed to operate and who isn't.

  • Who's essential includes broad swaths of workers, from bankers and auto mechanics to teachers and veterinarians.
  • But in some cases, state's early guidelines were too vague. It's forced them to double back and tell grey-area businesses to shut. For instance: Ohio's new Dispute Resolution Commission clarified last week that pet groomers were not considered essential businesses.
  • “There remains a need for clear national guidance to resolve questions caused by a number of conflicting state and local orders,” the National Retail Federation, retail's chief lobbying group, wrote in a letter to the White House.

Between the lines: The inconsistencies have created opportunity for businesses, which are flexing lobbying muscle to convince governors to deem them essential.

  • While liquor stores and medical marijuana dispensaries are deemed essential — to prevent people with chemical dependencies from having medical emergencies, among other reasons — some eyebrows have been raised.
  • In Massachusetts, for instance, recreational pot stores aren't considered essential. The decision drew furor from its cannabis industry, which says the outlets would be allowed to operate under other state guidelines.
  • Gov. Charlie Baker feared those shops "would attract people from out of state and hinder efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus," WBUR reports.

What to watch: "Essential" isn't going away — indeed, its definition could prove even more contentious as states and local areas begin the process of opening back up.

  • The businesses considered most important by governors will return to work first, which means that states will have to add more guidelines and gradations.
  • “So we want to start to bring the economy back, move up one tranche on how you define essential. What’s the next level of essential businesses?" New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this week.

Go deeper

Surprising pandemic side effect: Soaring trade deficits

Source: Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis; Chart: Axios Visuals

Inflation and jobs may get all the economic headlines, but meanwhile a big shift is taking place in the underpinnings of the world economy: The U.S. trade deficit is soaring.

What's happening: Americans' spending on imported physical goods has gone through the roof, while exports are growing slowly, making the U.S. the world's consumer of last resort.

Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Third Way: "Big Lie" could become "Big Coup"

Graphic: Third Way

Third Way, the center-left think tank, is urging fellow Democrats to respond to the Capitol riot with "the size, scope, and seriousness of a presidential campaign," co-founder Matt Bennett tells me.

Driving the news: "For the first time in U.S. history, a party must mount two parallel presidential campaigns: one to win the election, and the other to prevent its theft," Bennett said, calling this "a Paul Revere moment."

Advocates say Biden has let Haitian migrants down

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Christian Torres/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Continued turmoil in Haiti is causing a growing number of Haitians to try to make it to American shores — and some advocates say the Biden administration isn't supporting this community in its time of crisis.

The big picture: Haitian-American activists in South Florida told Axios Today they feel like President Biden has gone back on campaign promises he made to the community to stand up for them.