New retail rules ‘righting a wrong’ against small business, says Winnipeg entrepreneur

A Winnipeg business owner says new public health orders prohibiting the in-store sale of non-essential goods will help level the playing field for small business in Manitoba.

“I think that it’s righting a wrong that should have been addressed in the original closures,” said Andrew Parkes, co-founder of Eph Apparel.

Manitoba announced on Thursday that businesses allowed to remain open during the current restrictions will not be allowed to sell non-essential items to in-store shoppers. Those goods can be purchased for curbside pickup, however.

The rule comes into effect on Saturday and requires businesses to remove or rope off non-essential goods on their shelves.

The move comes after a previous order that forced non-essential retail — like Parkes’s business, which sells custom-made men’s clothing — to close its doors. The rules permitted stores selling essential goods to remain open, but many of those stores sold non-essential items, too.

Parkes argues the impact of the old rule unfairly fell on small business by allowing big box stores to keep selling their entire product lines if they also carried essential goods, while also allowing for more spread of COVID-19 among shoppers picking up non-essential goods in store.

“It’s bittersweet when you get news like this, and it’s always accompanied by … bad news as it relates to new caseloads,” he said.

“I think this is a big win for small business.”

‘Just be patient’

Shoppers leaving the Walmart on Winnipeg’s Empress Street Thursday afternoon had mixed opinions about the new rules.

“Anything that keeps us safe, I think it’s good,” said Bryan Gullion. “We’ve never been through this before, so just be patient and roll with the punches.”

Another shopper, Bob Hiebert said he’d appreciated the ability to buy a broad range of items in-store, because he doesn’t feel comfortable shopping online.

“I don’t feel safe buying online,” he said. “I’m sure it probably is quite safe, but so far I haven’t done it and I’m not going to do it until I’m absolutely forced to do it.”

Shoppers line up outside a Best Buy in Winnipeg on Thursday. (John Einarson/CBC)

According to the order, non-essential goods include toys, books, flowers, jewelry, perfume, consumer electronics and sporting equipment.

Items considered essential include food, personal care and health products, baby and child-care products, pet supplies and outdoor winter clothing. Liquor and cannabis sales will also be permitted.

You can find the full list of what’s deemed essential and what’s not on the provincial government’s website.

Lost faith

Parkes hopes to see more planning from the province on how to help Manitoba businesses make it through the long haul.

“I think that a lot of Manitobans have lost faith in the direction that things are headed,” he said.

“Business owners especially, we’ve been so wrapped up in what we can do to get through today, tomorrow, this week, that there hasn’t been enough of a focus on what we’re going to do to get through the next 12 months.”

Andrew Parkes, co-founder of Eph Apparel, says the province’s old rules on retail unfairly targeted small business. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

The holiday season can make or break a business’s year, Parkes said, and pandemic restrictions are likely to be crippling for some businesses this year.

He urged Manitobans to support local over the holidays.

“It’s nice that the loophole that allowed certain major players to sell those items while the rest of the public was unable [has been closed]. That’s a big first step in limiting the damage,” he said.

“But it’s still going to be really, really tough to have a holiday shopping season where nobody can set foot in any of their favourite local retailers.”

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