'Just not fair': Advocate laments big stores selling non-essential goods during lockdown
TORONTO -- New lockdown measures being implemented in several regions in Ontario and Manitoba are seeing small businesses shut their doors to in-person browsing again, causing concern for 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 get much foot traffic in the first place, and were unlikely to be a vector for the virus.
“I just spoke to a small business clothing store that said that they see in six months the number of customers a Walmart would see in one afternoon,” Kelly said. “And I think that says it all.”
The lockdown measures in Toronto, Peel region and Manitoba come amid surges of COVID-19 cases in several regions, a worrying trend that officials are looking to stop in its tracks.
Slowing the spread of the virus is essential, but Kelly believes the rules unfairly impact small businesses over large businesses.
He said it was a good thing that big box retailers such as Winners were also included in the closure, but pointed out that many large stores sell both groceries -- essential goods that mean they would stay open under the new rules -- and non-essential goods.
“We’re closing down the little flower shop, but well, you can buy your flowers at Costco,” Kelly said. “We’re closing down the small lighting store that I visited last night in north Toronto, but you can line up at Home Depot any time to get your lights. It is nuts.
“They’re still going to allow all the big box stores to sell non-essential goods, competing directly against those small businesses that are now forced to close their doors entirely. That’s just not fair.”
In Manitoba, this is partially addressed by a new rule implemented by public health officials on Friday, which states that retailers who were permitted to remain open in order to sell essential goods are not allowed to sell any non-essential goods they have in-store. Non-essential goods will have to be sold through curbside pickup or online, the same as the non-essential stores that were forced to close.
Kelly pointed out that funnelling everyone into one location to purchase their goods also might not be the best idea in terms of physical distancing and spreading out customers.
“We at CFIB are proposing right now that the governments institute a ‘small business first’ retail policy: allow the small guys to stay open, cap them at three customers at one time, three staff at one time, no more than six people in a business. At least that would allow them a heartbeat of economic activity,” Kelly said. “I think that would also help in terms of ensuring that there’s a lot more room for physical distancing.”
Kelly said that this lockdown will be worse for small businesses than the first one was.
“This is unlike the shutdown of March and April because this is, right now, the time where businesses need to bank some cash to help them get through the lean winter months,” he said.
He added that 50 per cent of annual sales for small retailers are within “the six weeks leading up to Christmas.”
Other advocates for small business have suggested that lockdowns of non-essential businesses should come with government support to prevent those stores from going under completely, such as rent relief, eviction freezes, grants or a combination of measures.
The last time CFIB calculated how many small businesses were unlikely to make it through the year, their tally came up with 160,000 permanent business closures, but with a new lockdown closing businesses right before the winter holidays, that number could go up.
“One in seven small businesses gone forever as a result of COVID-19,” Kelly said. “I hate to think these additional lockdowns, especially if they spread to other provinces, will mean that there will be more business fatalities before this is all over.”