‘Just not fair’: lawyer laments department stores selling non-essential goods during lockdown

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TORONTO – New lockdowns implemented in several parts of Ontario and Manitoba are once again seeing small businesses shut down to in-person browsing, worrying many in the industry. Dan Kelly, CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), told CTV News Channel that the move is unfair to stores that didn’t receive much traffic initially and that it is unlikely that it is a vector of the virus.

“I just spoke to a small business clothing store that said they would see in six months the number of customers a Walmart would see in an afternoon,” Kelly said. “And I think that says it all.”

The lockdowns in Toronto, Region of Peel and Manitoba come amid an outbreak of COVID-19 cases in several regions, a disturbing trend that officials are seeking to stop in its tracks.

Slowing the spread of the virus is essential, but Kelly believes the rules have an unfair impact on small businesses compared to large businesses.

He said it was a good thing that big box retailers such as Winners were also included in the shutdown, but pointed out that many department stores sell both groceries – essentials that mean that ‘they would remain open under the new rules – not essential goods.

“We’re closing the little flower shop, but hey, you can buy your flowers at Costco,” Kelly said. “We’re closing the little lighting store I visited last night in North Toronto, but you can line up at Home Depot anytime to get your lights. It’s crazy.

“They will still allow all big box stores to sell non-essential products, in direct competition with small businesses that are now forced to shut their doors completely. It just isn’t fair.

In Manitoba, this problem is partially addressed by a new rule implemented Friday by public health officials, which states that retailers authorized to remain open in order to sell essentials are not permitted to sell non-essential products that ‘they have in store. . Non-essential merchandise will need to be sold through curbside pickup or online, much like non-essential stores that have been forced to close.

Kelly pointed out that directing everyone to one place to buy their products also might not be the best idea in terms of physical distancing and customer allocation.

“At CFIB, we are now proposing that governments implement a ‘small business first’ retail policy: allow small businesses to stay open, cap at three customers at a time, three employees at a time. times, no more than six people a business. At least that would allow them to beat the heart of economic activity, ”Kelly said. “I think it would also help ensure that there is a lot more room for physical distancing.”

Kelly said this lockdown would be worse for small businesses than the first.

“It doesn’t look like the March and April shutdown, because right now is the time when businesses need to put money in the bank to help them get through the lean winter months,” he said. .

He added that 50% of annual sales by small retailers are made in the “six weeks leading up to Christmas”.

Other small business advocates have suggested that foreclosing non-essential businesses should be accompanied by government support to prevent such stores from going out of business, such as rent relief, freezing evictions, subsidies or a combination. of measurements.

The last time the CFIB calculated the number of small businesses that were unlikely to survive during the year, their tally resulted in 160,000 permanent business closures, but with a new lockdown closing businesses just before the holidays winter, this number could increase.

“One in seven small businesses is gone forever because of COVID-19,” Kelly said. “I hate to think that these additional lockdowns, especially if they spread to other provinces, will mean there will be more business deaths before this is all over.

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