big box stores toronto

Big box stores in Toronto remain open as independent local shops forced to close

As the lockdown comes into effect in Toronto and most non-essential businesses are forced to close, many are wondering why local, independently-run shops must shutter while big box stores can remain open. 

According to the details of the province's tiered COVID-19 framework, retail outlets located in regions in the grey zone are only permitted to be open for curbside pick-up and delivery

There are, however, a number of exceptions where in-person shopping is still allowed as long is the store is only at 50 per cent capacity, including supermarkets, grocery stores, convenience stores, hardware stores, other retailers selling groceries, wine shops, beer and liquor stores, pharmacies and safety supply stores. 

These exceptions make it so that several big box stores that sell groceries or other essential items, such as Costco, Walmart and even the Queen Street location of Hudson's Bay, can remain open to the public for in-person shopping while independent retailers cannot.

The province has said closing most retail outlets for in-person shopping and limiting them to curbside pick-up or delivery will help reduce the spread of COVID-19, but many small business owners say the rules unfairly disadvantage local establishments that are already struggling to survive.

"We've already heard from hundreds of concerned small retailers who feel the lockdown restrictions have created a massive unfair advantage for many big, multi-national corporations," said President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) Dan Kelly.

"The province needs to fix this imbalance immediately and rely on small businesses as part of the solution to help keep Ontarians from gathering in large groups."

The CFIB is therefore proposing a "Small Business First" COVID-19 retail policy, which would allow all non-essential small retailers to reopen for in-store sales, but with very limited capacity for customers and public-facing staff. 

"The current rules close small bookstores, florists and lighting stores to instore business, but allow customers to line up at Costco and Walmart to buy these same items," said Kelly. "If it is dangerous to buy a book at an independent bookseller, why isn't it dangerous at Costco?"

The federation is calling upon the provincial government to allow small, local businesses to reopen for in-store shopping with a limit of three customers for a fixed time for personalized shopping, and to encourage pre-booking appointments to avoid lineups — all while still recommending that customers shop by curbside pick-up or delivery as a preferred means. 

"A second round of lockdowns is a crushing blow for Ontario's retail sector," said Ryan Mallough, CFIB's Ontario director. "Losing the holiday shopping season will mean permanent closure for many small retailers."

Lead photo by

Fareen Karim


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