Toronto businesses say we're not in this together anymore as lockdown continues
Ontario has extended Toronto's lockdown by another two weeks, and there's mounting frustration among some small businesses who had hoped to reopen this past Monday but couldn't.
Toronto's stay-at-home order will, tentatively, be lifted by March 8. Under the new rules for retail, that will see in-person shopping return, with capacity limits of 25 per cent for both small business and big box stores.
But Expo, a vintage clothing store on Dundas West, says that big box stores have been given an unfair advantage since the beginning. It's "a war on small business," says the store.
"Whether intentional or not, this current lockdown...has given Big Box an unfair advantage over small businesses in the city," said Expo owners, who asked not to be named, to blogTO.
"It is unclear to us why any given Walmart or Costco can have hundreds of customers (and who knows how many staff) bottlenecked into a store at any given time with no enforced social distancing or traffic flow, but a small shop downtown cannot have one customer inside for one-on-one shopping."
During an inspection blitz earlier this month, Ontario's Minstry of Labour cited that 41 per cent of big box stores across Ontario violated the Province's lockdown rules.
It was not the first time this year that stores like Walmart, Shoppers Drug Mart, and Costco received fines for overcrowding or lack of physical distancing.
In January, the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, which represents 84 BIAs across the city, sent an open letter to Premier Doug Ford, demanding that Ontario level the playing field.
"We are asking you to take urgent action by going one step further in the orders and mandating big box stores and other retailers selling essential goods to close off sections of their stores where non-essential items are displayed," said the letter.
On Monday, Expo put up a sign on its window: "Hey Tory/Ford, why can Walmart sell clothing but we can't!!!? We are NOT 'in this together' anymore."
Another sign reads: "Shop local while local still exists."
Not being afforded the same rights as big box stores has been "immeasurably detrimental," says Expo. But when the lockdown was extended Monday, the anger boiled over.
"We needed to express our frustration and have our voices heard," says Expo.
The Little Portugal on Dundas West BIA says that business members "are barely making it."
"There is a lot of frustration among our businesses who feel it is unfair because big box stores are allowed to sell non-essential items," says AnaBela Taborda, Chair of the Board of Directors of the BIA.
"Our businesses feel they could too, with the necessary public health precautions in place."
Instituting sick days for precarious workers, addressing high insurance rates, and more streamlined processes for small business to obtain subsidies are a few things Taborda says the Province didn't do to prop up local businesses.
"In the initial COVID-19 lockdown back in 2020, the municipal, provincial and federal governments were inundating us with the mantra of 'we are all in this together' - and it very much felt like we were," said Expo.
"But now we are coming up on a full year of some degree of lockdown, and it is becoming clearer and clearer what our government's priorities are."