EOHU: Big box store treatment unfair to small businesses

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By Nick Seebruch
EOHU: Big box store treatment unfair to small businesses
Walmart, a big box store.

CORNWALL, Ontario – In his update to media on Tuesday, Jan. 5, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, Medical Officer of Health with the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) was asked what the most common complaint was that he had received since the COVID-19 lockdown started, and he said that it was in relation to big box stores.

“We are getting multiple, multiple complaints that big box stores are allowed to sell everything and that small retailers that sell clothes for example are not,” he said, “That is something that I have written to the Ministry (of Health) about. I’ve actually asked them to use what Quebec did. They allowed big box stores to open but only for groceries and essential products. I have asked that again and will send another note to the ministry requesting this.”

In late Dec. 2020, the province announced an Ontario wide shutdown to fight the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

READ MORE: Province wide lockdown starts Boxing Day

Under the provincial rubric, essential businesses such as grocery stores and pharmacies remain open, but at reduced capacity, to a maximum of 50 per cent of total capacity. Big box stores that sell groceries are limited to 25 per cent capacity for indoor shopping, but are allowed to have all of their retail sections open. Non-essential retailers, like clothing stores, are limited to curbside service only.

“I think it is unfair that this is going on. It is unfair to small retail businesses. That is the complaint we are getting, and I must say, I agree with that complaint. It’s a valid complaint,” Dr. Roumeliotis said.

Greg Pietersma, Executive Director of the Cornwall and Area Chamber of Commerce said that provincial rules must be applied fairly.

“We support and encourage businesses to operate to the fullest extent allowed by emergency orders. However, we want the directives to be applied fairly to all companies regardless of what they sell,” he wrote in an emailed statement to Seaway News. “Businesses that are allowed to be open for in-store purchases because they sell goods or services that are deemed essential should only be allowed to sell those goods or services to in-store customers. All non-essential goods must be sold through curbside and delivery. We back Dr. Paul’s request that the Province change the emergency order to reflect this position.”

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