Businesses that closed in Utah polygamous community reopen

The Salt Lake Tribune/November 16, 2012

Three businesses run by members of the polygamous sect led by Warren Jeffs appeared to shut down permanently Friday - only to re-open Saturday.

It wasn't immediately clear why the border town's only grocery store, CMC Food Town, as well as the adjoining hardware store and RadioShack in Colorado City, Ariz., went dark Friday, with the windows papered over.

"Thanks for your patronage!" said a sign taped in the grocery store window read. The store also serves the neighboring town of Hildale, Utah.

The closures came along with word of strict new dietary restrictions on members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, apparently imposed by Jeffs. Leaders are said to have restricted members from eating processed food, dairy, oatmeal, corn and turnips, along other items, said Bruce Wisan, the court-appointed administrator of the church's property trust.

No one answered a phone number listed for the business and an FLDS attorney said he didn't have knowledge of the situation.

"There [was] some speculation that it went bankrupt, and some speculation that the FLDS want church members to go to the bishop's storehouse to get food," Wisan said.

His employee, Jethro Barlow, posted a notice Friday night warning against removing any of the trust-owned property, such as store fixtures. Saturday morning, the stores were open again, said resident Isaac Wyler.

The last two years have been tumultuous for the sect as hundreds of members have been excommunicated by Jeffs and other leaders. Some local businesses, including a dairy, have closed as members were expelled from the group and left town.

That's what happened to the only local dentist, said Barlow, a former member.

"The only way I can see it makes sense is that you're so convinced the world is going to end [that those services aren't necessary]," he said.

"There's been a series of closures from medical establishments to the stores to other businesses. It seems to be a self-fulfilling end-of-the world prophecy," said former FLDS member Willie Jessop.

Meanwhile, FLDS members are getting more of their food directly from the sect. Leaders set up a new United Order to provide members food deemed necessary from the bishop's storehouse, according to former sect members.

The hardware and grocery stores were principal providers of raw materials for church projects, including a new house built for Jeffs, said Wyler, also a former member.

"They've been struggling, way over-extending themselves," he said. He estimated at least 40 people work at the shops.

Wisan said he hasn't asked the store for rent or had any plans to sell the property. He was appointed to run the FLDS trust after the state assumed control of it in 2005 amid allegations of mismanagement by FLDS trustees.

The nearest grocery store is in Hurricane, more than 20 miles away.

Jeffs, 56, is serving a life prison sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting two underage girls, ages 12 and 15, whom he took as polygamous wives. He is said to retain control of the sect from his prison cell.

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