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'Final nail in the coffin': Retail industry urges Ontario to ease lockdown restrictions

·3 min read

Retail industry representatives are urging the Ontario government to reconsider newly implemented lockdown measures in Toronto and Peel regions, and allow non-essential retailers to reopen for the critical holiday season.

The province announced last week that starting Monday all non-essential retail stores in Toronto and Peel will be limited to curbside pick-up only for at least 28-days. Some retailers, including grocery, hardware and big box stores, are allowed to remain open with reduced capacity.

The Retail Council of Canada (RCC) and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) are pushing the government to allow non-essential retailers to open, saying the lockdown threatens the survival of many small businesses that depend on the busy holiday shopping season.

“For many struggling businesses, this could be the final nail in the coffin,” Julie Kwiecinski, CFIB’s Ontario director of provincial affairs, said in an interview.

“They were hoping that their sales would go up in this make-or-break holiday season. With the policies now in place in Toronto and Peel, they clearly won’t see sales go up, so we may not see those businesses alive in January.”

The CFIB is also taking issue with the government’s decision to shutter non-essential businesses while allowing big box stores such as Walmart and Costco to remain open. Kwiecinski says the government should either allow non-essential retailers to reopen, or to cordon off non-essential items at big box stores in order to “level the playing field.”

The CFIB has also recommended that the government allow non-essential retailers to reopen with “very limited capacity” of three customers and three staff per store. It is also encouraging allowing pre-booked appointments in order to avoid long lines outside stores.

While Ontario Premier Doug Ford acknowledged on Monday the concern about big box stores remaining open, he said that closing off parts of a store that cater to non-essential goods would be “a logistical nightmare.”

“100 per cent it’s not fair,” Ford said. “That’s why we put an additional $300 million to support small businesses... We’re doing everything we can as a province. The quicker we can get through this, the quicker we can get this vaccine out there, we can get people back and open up.”

Diane Brisebois, the chief executive of the Retail Council of Canada, said the government’s lockdowns come at a time that represents close to 40 per cent of annual sales for independent and mid-size retailers. She added that e-commerce will not make up for the lost in-person sales, particularly given the increased competition online as well as concerns about shipping capacity with Canada’s parcel delivery services.

“We are pleading with the government to reconsider this lockdown,” she said in an interview.

“We think the best solution is the rethink capacity restriction and allow non-essential retailers to operate and truly ensure they control the number of people that can be in the store at one time.”

Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.

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