National Post (National Edition)
Quebec merchants adjust to new lockdown reality
MONTREAL • Out of underwear? You won’t be able to get it at Walmart or Costco if you are there to get other essential household goods.
The province has limited all shopping to just the essentials, forcing most retailers to shut their doors.
“It’s a period of adjustment for our members,”said Jean-François Belleau, the director of government relations for the Retail Council of Canada.
The new restrictions, which went into place on Dec. 26 and are scheduled to last until Jan. 11, allow grocery stores, pharmacies, pet shops and hardware stores to remain open, as well as the province’s liquor (SAQ) and cannabis (SQDC) stores. Office employees are to work from home.
Any stores or restaurants selling food are able to continue to do so, but those selling goods deemed non-essential must close. Big-box stores, or stores that sell a variety of items must close off areas of their stores that contain non-essential goods.
Personal hygiene products are deemed to be essential, but home improvement is not. That means renovation stores must limit themselves to selling home repair products.
Anyone who needs to buy an appliance like a microwave or a refrigerator must do so online, but if you’re in a home improvement store buying essential items, clerks are permitted to guide you to buy that appliance online.
“It’s because when you buy a product in person, the delivery time is the same as if you order it online, so it’s not like you ever walk out of a store while carrying a fridge,” Belleau said.
The new measures certainly seem to have reduced foot traffic at many stores.
In Pierrefonds, Claude Lavoie, the owner of Home Hardware on Pierrefonds Blvd. said there were only about one-third the normal number of customers in his store on Monday.
“It’s a bit of a headache,” he said, “because there is no exhaustive list of what is considered to be essential or not. So we closed off our section for Christmas decorations, home decorations, paint colours and kitchen items. We also tell customers coming in that we’re only open for essential goods, so it’s up to them to decide if their trip is essential or not.
“We can’t ask every customer for their life story.”
Belleau said it’s probably a good thing there is no exhaustive list, because in Manitoba, where stores were only permitted to sell items detailed on a master list drafted by the province, there were problems when people had to buy candles during a power failure.
“Candles were not on the list,” he said. “In Quebec, we have the flexibility to take things out of the essential items sections and sell them. In Manitoba, to allow this to happen, the province’s cabinet had to meet together to modify the decree. We don’t want that here.”
He said the measures are most difficult for smaller stores, who can’t compete with online giants like Amazon. However, he said his members have accepted the restrictions, knowing they’re only for two weeks.
“The i dea is to li m - it people going to stores,” he said. “If I have to go to a store, it has to be essential. And we can’t lose view of the fact that this is for just two weeks, not more. If it’s more, we will have to ask the government for more help.”
The Retail Council of Canada and the Canadian Federation of Small Business both said Monday they plan to lobby Quebec so all businesses — not just essential services — are allowed to let customers pick up online orders outside stores with curbside pickup.