Large department stores that include groceries as part of their inventory are allowed to open their doors to customers because they fall under the provincial government’s essential services category for retailers during the lockdown. But council is hearing complaints about those same stores allowing customers to also purchase non-essential items like furniture or home electronics.
Mayor Guy Desjardins noted that this means unfair competition for small businesses classed as “non-essential” because those are the only items they sell. Those businesses are limited to offering curbside pickup or home delivery of their goods to customers who have to phone ahead or go online to place orders. He noted there is a public health concern involved because people are encouraged to ignore the government’s demand that people stay at home except when shopping for essentials like groceries.
“If they (larger stores) want to sell groceries, that’s fine,” said Mayor Desjardins during a phone interview about the issue. “Otherwise, they should cordon off the other areas.”
During the open discussion portion of their February 1 session, Clarence-Rockland council members reviewed a proposal for a resolution to send to Premier Doug Ford concerning the unfair advantage some larger stores have over local small businesses during the lockdown.
Council wants the provincial government to either impose stricter controls on big-box and discount stores that offer groceries for sale or else allow small businesses to operate under the same conditions as the larger department-type stores. That includes limiting the number of customers inside at any one time to one-quarter of the store’s capacity and to make sure everyone inside wears a mask, sanitizes their hands, and maintains a two-meter distance between each other.
During the February 1 session, councillor Sam Cardarelli read out a statement from Karl Parent, president of the Clarence-Rockland Chamber of Commerce, asking council’s support in lobbying for fair-trade competition for small businesses.
“We believe it’s time that we look at keeping our local economy healthy during these uncertain times,” stated Parent. “Protocols are in place to keep larger corporations open but the same should apply to our smaller businesses. The federal and provincial governments are doing their best, but we should step up and think about what is best for our community. Procedures are in place and it will be up to the business owners and citizens to oblige by them.”
A provincial government announcement this week indicated some possible changes to the present lockdown restrictions on businesses but Mayor Desjardins still thinks council should send the premier a message in case another lockdown occurs because of a rise in COVID-19 cases.
“If we should fall back,” Mayor Desjardins said, “I want to make sure we do get the same rules for all businesses.”