Small Manitoba businesses sidelined during critical time due to ‘essential only’ rule: CFIB

The local business community says the province is only addressing part of the problem with its latest announcement of tightened restrictions aimed at curbing soaring coronavirus cases.

All retailers will only be allowed to sell essential items to in-person shoppers and must remove all non-essential items from public access.

Many big-box retailers have stayed open since Code Red restrictions went into effect Nov. 12, selling everything on their shelves, because part of their inventory includes items listed as essential under provincial health rules.

Read more: Coronavirus: Code Red restrictions ‘devastating’ on Manitoba retailers: RCC

Canadian Federation of Independent Business President and CEO Dan Kelly said it is good news to see a level playing field, but says the province didn’t address the fact many small and medium-sized businesses remain shut.

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Kelly said most small businesses make half of their earnings in the six weeks leading up to Christmas. He was hoping to see a “small business-first” strategy that would allow a maximum of three employees and three customers at one time inside.

And while he says the CFIB will continue to push the idea, time is running out.

“If small retailers miss out on the busy Christmas season, they’re toast,” Kelly said. “They’re just not gonna survive. The only thing they need is to find a way to get at least a trickle of commerce back to those same businesses. But to expect that’s going to happen through an entirely online mode, is just not realistic.”

READ MORE: Manitoba clamps down on gathering sizes, retailers

Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Loren Remillard said nobody should be celebrating Thursday’s announcement banning in-person sales of non-essential items and worries about job losses.

“When you’re restricting economic activity, companies of every size take a look and say “I don’t need this staffing component to support the activity that we’re seeing,’” Remillard said.

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Kelly also worries about the safety of employees and is concerned how customers will react when they’re being denied items.

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“We’re urging consumers to recognize the pandemic has prompted the government to take these measures,” Kelly said. “They should not take it out on the business owners or staff and ensure they focus on getting their essential products as best they can.”

Read more: COVID-19: Anti-mask rant from woman at Calgary Fabricland captured on video

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, also reminded businesses to follow a capacity limit of 25 per cent or 250 people, whatever total is lower, after those restrictions were put into effect more than two weeks ago.

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