big box stores

Toronto business owners ask Ford to prohibit big box stores from selling non-essential items

Toronto business owners and politicians are calling on the Ford government to prohibit big box stores from selling non-essential items in person in an effort to level the playing field with independent retailers and discourage unnecessary outings.

In an open letter sent to Premier Doug Ford this morning, city councillor Brad Bradford and executive director of the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) John Kiru said they're concerned about the effectiveness of current public health measures as well as the impacts they're having on small, locally-owned businesses.

"We are writing to you on behalf of Toronto's 84 Business Improvement Areas, representing over 70,000 businesses and property owners across the city," reads the letter. 

In Ontario, all non-essential retailers are currently required to be closed for in-person shopping and can only offer curbside pick-up and delivery until 8 p.m., while big box stores such as Costco and Walmart that sell essentials like groceries can maintain their regular hours and continue selling non-essential items in store.

"This puts small businesses at a disadvantage and is a public health concern as it may encourage non-essential travel," notes the letter.

"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."

In several other Canadian provinces, including Manitoba, governments have already taken this step, and Bradford and Kiru said cases in the province have already declined since this strategy was implemented.

The letter also acknowledges that big box stores need to be kept open to provide essentials goods for residents, especially given the varied geography and access to online shopping across Ontario, but it says fairness to main street retailers "who have made incredible sacrifices throughout the pandemic" must also be considered.

"To even the playing field has been an ask from many businesses we have been speaking with on city-wide calls every Tuesday since the
pandemic began," the letter reads.

Stephen-Thomas Maciejowski of the St. Lawrence Market BIA told blogTO this change would likely have a positive impact on both public health and the economy.

"This could do two things. One, help to lower the number of people going out in public to browse for non-essential items," he said.

"This should then lower the number of people passing through big box stores and the total time they spend inside, which should in turn help lower the chances of spreading COVID-19."

"As a side effect," he continued, "it will slightly even the competition between big boxes and small shops which have been forced to only do curbside pick-up or delivery."

This call comes after big box stores in Toronto saw massive lineups and crowding during the first weekend of the province's new stay-at-home order, and officers discovered 36 big box retailers violating public health rules during an enforcement blitz on Saturday.

Lead photo by

Fareen Karim


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