Along the Seaway Valley, there is growing concern that small businesses will continue to lose against big box stores who remain open and continue to sell non-essential items as Ontario enters a stay-at-home order on Thursday.

Dave Shaw, owner of Alan Browns in downtown Brockville say they have a monopoly.

"What was created was a monopoly for some of the big box stores that sell essential products to also have the opportunity to sell their non-essential products," Shaw said from his closed store on Wednesday.

"I'm literally surprised at government this time, during such a crisis when our health care is in crisis, that it's a partial lockdown again and we're allowing these same large stores to monopolize retail, period. Selling non-essentials because they have essentials available to the consumers," Shaw said.

He feels the rules that determine what is considered essential and non-essential should be defined and that his store is losing money.

"For my little business to be shut down for two months, it's crippling. Numbers coming out at the end of January will be 60 per cent down for our fiscal year end," Shaw said.

Both Brockville and Gananoque chambers of commerce sent a letter of advocacy to Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark about the issue, saying that by 'allowing large box stores to remain open creates an un-level playing field when they should be only open for necessities.'

The Cornwall chamber of commerce has also added a petition, calling for fairness for all businesses.

In a response from Clark, he replied, "The idea of roping off some aisles...would be onerous and would require the government to make a determination on hundreds of thousands of items" and that "our government should not determine what is an essential item for every person in this province."

Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, the medical officer of health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit says the government is already doing that.

"That's what they are doing now, they are dictating what is essential and non-essential in the regulation and in the framework," Roumeliotis said, adding other provinces have closed off sales of non-essentials.

"It's not like it's an unprecedented thing. Quebec did it. I know they cordoned off certain areas and I don't see why it can't be done here," he said. 

The biggest complaint he's heard over the last few weeks is why are big box stores still allowed to sell non-essential items.

"I had thought that this would be a great time for them to enact that specification, that they could only sell essential products," Roumeliotis said. "We are getting a frustrated community, including our municipal politicians as well. People calling and saying 'We're fed up. Why is this little store closed, we can't go, and why can we go to these big box stores that are selling everything?'"

Roumeliotis added that he's disappointed and that several mayors across eastern Ontario have also brought up the same question to him.

"My community and our mayors are quite disappointed on it," he said

In Brockville, residents agree that small businesses are the losers as the lockdown continues.

"These guys are getting away with selling stuff that nobody else can sell simply because they've got a grocery line," said Bob & Louvaine.

"I think it's unfair that the small stores have to be closed and the big box stores get all the business, especially when other stores that sell that specialty are not allowed to sell them at all," added Louvaine.

"It doesn't make any sense whatsoever," said Richard Bradley. "You can have just as much pedestrian congestion in a big box store as you can on the front of a sidewalk. It's not fair whatsoever."

For Shaw, he says he will be okay for the time being, but thinks newer stores wont have a chance.

"We are a 100-year-old store. I've been here 42 years. If we didn't have that behind us, any new stores, it's going to shut them down. There is no way that small business can survive this kind of lockdown."

He also reached out to Clark about the issue and heard back in an hour.

"He was extremely understanding. He spoke as a friend, not only as a politician and he's promised to voice our concerns in the legislature. We'll see what happens."