New holiday restrictions imposed by the Quebec government are causing confusion among merchants and retailers.
Since Christmas Day, non-essential businesses in Quebec have been forced to close as the province launches into another shutdown to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The premier ordered the shutdown of all non-essential businesses from Dec. 25 to at least Jan. 11, 2021.
Essential businesses allowed to operate include banks, grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, garages and pet shops.
Big box stores like Costco, or Walmart, can remain open but aren’t allowed to sell non-essential products.
But after a few days, many retailers are confused by what is and what is not permitted.
“So some retailers are a little stricter,” Retail Council of Canada spokesperson Marc Fortin said. “Some are less strict, and that’s creating some confusion. And we’re trying to adjust it as the week goes by.”
Walk into a big box store like Walmart and most of the space is off-limits.
Aisles are cordoned off and shelves are covered in paper and plastic. Non-essential items like toys and clothing cannot be sold.
According to Fortin, there are grey zones and much is at the discretion of the merchant.
“Certain retailers were selling little ovens because people still need to cook and make food. So little ovens are allowed but not toasters. So that became confusing somehow, ” Fortin said.
“Retailers are trying to serve customers, but we’re trying to do it within the parameters given by the government. And there’s always risk of pretty, pretty high fines.”
Hardware stores are allowed to stay open, but the public health measures in place have led to confusion.
Customers are supposed to be asked upon arrival what they need and for what purpose. Only items that are deemed to be of dire need are supposed to be sold.
Don’t expect to do any home renovations that aren’t necessary, according to the president of the association that represents hardware stores.
“We’re not supposed to shop. So if there’s a problem with your home, go ahead and fix the problem. If you have a project, postpone it,” Richard Darveau said.
“I think it’s a question of green and red light. From my point of view. It’s quite simple.”
The government-ordered shutdown means physical stores are affected, but online shopping is not.
The Retail Council of Canada wants to bring life to the empty streets with curbside pick-up like in Ontario, something it hopes the Legault government will accept.
“We would have liked to have it now, but the government wanted to restrict movement of the population, so we again understand,” Fortin said.
“It’s kind of unfortunate for all these small retailers and all the clothing retailers because they’ve been hurt. They’ve been hit really hard in the last eight, nine months.”
Fortin says discussions with the government are scheduled in the new year.
He expects to see non-essential stores reopen but with strict and limited capacity.