'It's frustrating and it's not fair:' N.S. retailers react to lockdown rules

Public Health restrictions in Nova Scotia have resulted in two sets of rules for shoppers and retailers.

Big box stores that sell essential goods can now sell non-essential items to customers once they're in the store, but non-essential small businesses cannot open – they can only offer curbside pickup and delivery.

This had led some store owners to say it's an uneven playing field.

"It's frustrating, and it's not fair," said Jackie Schneider, who owns a furniture store in Dartmouth Crossing.

Schneider said she fears COVID-19 will have a long-lasting impact on retail business. She also said she wonders why people can buy furniture in-person in big box stores, but not her small business.

"When this whole pandemic is over, all you're going to see is for lease and for sale signs," she said.

Jim Cormier, director of government relations with the Retail Council of Canada said he agrees. He said ideally, he wishes everyone could shop in all retail outlets – but with strict public health regulations such as capacity limits.

He adds that he believes bigger retailers and small businesses are operating under two sets of COVID-19 rules.

"Basically, any retailer that sells what was deemed to be essential products, he's allowed to welcome people in the store at 25 per cent capacity," said Cormier.

But, if a big box store sells essential items, they are then allowed to sell non-essential items as well – including clothing and furniture.

If a store doesn't offer essential products – they can still do curbside pickup and delivery. But, Schneider said this doesn't help her situation much. She said she is not getting many sales online.

A proposed remedy to this dilemma was in place in Ontario, but the provincial government altered those restrictions. With that model, items deemed "non-essential" were taped off from customer access in big box stores such as Walmart, and prohibited from being sold.

In Monday's COVID-19 update from the province of Nova Scotia, Premier Iain Rankin and Dr. Robert Strang responded to the idea of retail restrictions for big box stores.

"My colleagues in the Department of Business, in their communication with other provinces that tried to do this and limit what items could be sold in a store once it opened, was very chaotic and very problematic and actually didn't work very well at all," said Dr. Strang.

"I recognize that retailers that are closed are facing huge challenges right now," said Rankin. "And, all I can say is that I will support them."

Rankin finished by saying he'll have "more to say on that" Tuesday on how his government will be able to support retail businesses financially.