Expanded Sunday, holiday shopping hours will give Manitoba stores more flexibility, advocate says

Expanded Sunday shopping hours in Manitoba could open up more opportunities for retailers, even while their doors remain closed to the public, according to a retail advocacy group.

On Thursday, the province passed legislation eliminating Sunday and holiday shopping restrictions that blocked stores from opening outside the hours of 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The changes took effect this weekend, though current pandemic restrictions bar the sale of non-essential items and have forced some stores to temporarily close.

John Graham of the Retail Council of Canada said Manitoba’s laws have been considered outdated for years compared to the rest of the country. 

And while the timing of the change, which comes as shopping restrictions remain in place, may seem odd, it will still help store owners and shoppers, he said.

“It will allow for some additional hours and better physical distancing and being able to introduce things like senior and health-care [worker] hours at the beginning of the day on Sunday,” Graham said.

“This was a long time coming and an important piece of legislation that just allows more flexibility for retailers to operate based on demand.”

Legislation to make the change to shopping hours was introduced last year but the proposal was quashed in September when the previous legislative session ended. In October, the province reintroduced the legislation and expedited it.

Graham said the legislation passed earlier this week may have been too short-notice for stores to implement changes by the weekend, but shoppers could see extended hours next weekend at stores that haven’t made the shift yet.

He said the new rules allow more flexibility for stores competing with round-the-clock online shopping platforms.

“Ten years ago, a retailer’s biggest competitor was down the street. Now, for many retailers, their largest competitor is online [and] open 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said.

Change follows election pledge

The Progressive Conservatives made relaxing shopping hours an election promise in 2019. 

Earlier that same year, the owner of an independent Winnipeg grocery chain was slapped with a $10,000 fine for opening on Good Friday. Munther Zeid, owner of Foodfare, fought the fine, which was eventually dropped.

Zeid said he’s not planning to expand his stores’ Sunday hours yet because there isn’t enough demand from customers. 

“The only thing it will change is now, when we do open on the holidays, we don’t have to worry about somebody coming to the door and possibly giving us a fine,” Zeid said.

He said he’s thankful his stores will be able to stay open legally on holidays, but he’s not sure how customers will respond to the new shopping hours.

“This pandemic has really changed a lot of people’s habits. Once it’s over, we’ll see what happens,” he said. “I have a feeling people are going to try and continue having more family time.”

Bill 4, known as the Retail Business Hours of Operation Act, lets Manitoba businesses choose to remain open longer on Sundays and statutory holidays. The legislation also allows municipalities to pass bylaws if they want to keep certain restrictions around shopping hours in place.

The last time Manitoba expanded its shopping hours was in 2012, when the earliest opening time was moved from noon to 9 a.m.

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