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Small business owners confused over new stay-at-home restrictions: ‘We need some more clarification’

Small business owners confused over new stay-at-home restrictions: ‘We need some more clarification’
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Small-business owners say Ontario’s new stay-at-home order is confusing , and may make things even harder for them while still favouring big-box stores that sell non-essential items.

Ontarians are being told to stay at home except for essential shopping, such as for groceries or to a pharmacy, as well as exercise and going to work if they are unable to work at home. They can also gather outside with up to five people.

However, non-essential businesses can still offer curbside pickup and delivery as they have been throughout the lockdown between the hours of 7 a.m. and 8 p.m., while big-box stores that carry essential items will remain open, raising questions about what constitutes an essential shopping run.

The new measures “absolutely confused” Josh Dieleman, sales and marketing manager for Scarboro Music in Toronto.

For one, Dieleman is confused about whether customers are allowed to show up to his store for curbside pickup, even though the items they sell aren’t considered essential. He’s also confused about whether he and other employees should go to the store, since they’re not offering an essential service, and some of their work can be done from home — but they can’t offer curbside pickup without being at the store.

“How do you expect small businesses to operate?” asked Dieleman. “How do you encourage people to shop online and do curbside while you’re also trying to be a leader in the community and tell people to stay at home?

“We need some more clarification.”

It’s yet another hit to small businesses, Dieleman said, noting that big-box stores selling groceries can continue to stay open for in-person shopping, despite the fact they carry non-essential items — an ongoing complaint for small businesses during the lockdown.

Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said his organization is still seeking clarity from the provincial government on a number of new restrictions.

He had hoped the latest announcement would even the playing field between small retailers and big boxes, and was disappointed to find out that small businesses are now facing increased restrictions instead.

“There’s an inherent contradiction,” Kelly said.

Beyond the confusion around curbside pickup and essential shopping voiced by Dieleman, Kelly said the restrictions are unclear about whether small businesses can offer delivery outside of their new mandated business hours, which are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The government confirmed to the CFIB that companies such as Amazon can deliver outside these hours, said Kelly, but it appears that small businesses can’t, unless through a third-party delivery company.

“We still haven’t got firm clarification. But our understanding is that at eight o’clock, a small business is not allowed to deliver a product to the customer’s doorstep, even leaving it there without even seeing them. But if they use a courier company to do it, that’s OK,” said Kelly.

“That’s the interpretation we’ve been given at the moment.”

Rocco Rossi, chief executive officer of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, said there’s a lot of “confusion and frustration” over the new restrictions, including around how they will be enforced.

Small businesses continue to be frustrated over the advantages granted to big-box stores, he said, and added there’s not enough financial support for businesses affected by the lockdown.

“If you want to avoid significant bankruptcies, something more has to be done on that front,” he said.

Rossi said he’s concerned that if the new rules aren’t made clearer, people might not follow them properly.

“Confusion and complication are the enemies of compliance,” he said.

In a FAQ Wednesday, the office of Premier Doug Ford elaborated that letting curbside pickup continue is aimed at Ontarians in more rural or remote areas, and for Ontarians who can’t order things online for delivery.

“We’ve learned a lot over the past year responding to this pandemic, including the fact that what may be essential to someone in Timmins and how they buy that item may not be essential to someone in downtown Toronto, who can easily buy items online for delivery,” the statement reads.
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