Heather Hunter January’21

In Support of Small Business

By Heather Hunter

After the first wave of COVID-19, when small businesses were allowed to reopen, owners and managers sprang into action implementing COVID-19 protocols at considerable expense. They limited the number of clients allowed to pass through their doors, posted signs reminding people to wear masks, had hand sanitizer at the ready at the front, arrows on the floors at 6” apart, and even erected plexiglass barriers. Everyone, customers and staff alike, was thrilled to see one another again – but resisted hugging.

So during the second wave, why were they shut down and the big box stores allowed to remain open selling non-essential goods? On Black Friday, excited shoppers lined up outside Costco, Walmart, The Dollar Store and Home Depot. People were seen running from stores carrying big screen televisions. Fearing future closures, they flocked to big retailers to do their Christmas shopping. Some went to other jurisdictions with extended hours to handle the influx. Mayor Tory proclaimed that restrictions needed to be regional to be fair.

Politicians continued to urge us to support our local businesses while making it impossible to do so. There has been no evidence to suggest that small retailers are in any way responsible for the spread of the virus. Was it a political decision to target small businesses while giving free reign to large ones? Premier Ford defended the move by saying it would be too hard for big department stores to cordon off non-essential items. The grocery section of Walmart is isolated on one side of the building. Customers were forced to line up at large crowded stores leaving the small stores to languish across the street. Is it because big retail business pays more sales tax which can be used to keep the economy limping along? Did lobbyists influence the government’s decision? Did local business associations have any input in the decision-making?

The impact of closing bars and restaurants affects the general public as well as the proprietors, most of whom were conscientiously applying the protocols. Like the British pub, some restaurants such as The Victorian Monkey on Kingston Rd. (now closed for good) were social gathering places. Without small family-owned businesses, shopping becomes impersonal and a sense of community declines.

Do customers bear some responsibility for the demise of small retailers? Is it really worth it to them to shop in huge stores devoid of knowledgeable employees, opting to fend for themselves rather than pay a bit more and get expert advice from small store owners who offer specialized service as well as goods?

Ian Jackson, Cliffside resident and owner of flooring business NADURRA Wood Corp, does not entirely blame the government for store closures. “To save a buck, consumers flock to big stores. It is pretty obvious the injustice that the government is imposing on the small business community, but we have been seeing more and more consumers willingly embrace Costco, Walmart and Amazon, rather than choosing to support small merchants. This will ultimately send more jobs offshore.” Undoubtedly, most of the profits from the multi-national chains flows out of Canada.

The public has a choice in the matter of where to shop. Many customers pay lip service to the plight of the small business owners who are losing their shirts, but then proceed to buy everything on Amazon. Granted, Canadian-made high quality apparel costs more than the items produced in sweatshops abroad which barely make it through one washing. Perhaps it would be wiser to buy less and buy Canadian.

On the other hand, the government seems to be turning a blind eye to the fact that many small businesses do not pay their fair share of taxes. They do business under the table, dealing in cash with no paper trail. How much of the payments kept in contractors’ pockets or in the little black cash boxes in small stores finds its way to the government coffers when no receipt is issued? Blatant signs are posted in some establishments: “Add 13% if paying by debit or charge card” (to avoid paying the tax).

Is the government giving preferential treatment to big companies who collect the HST to ensure a tax revenue that can be turned into government cheques for the unemployed? It would be nice to know the rationale behind many of the government’s decisions besides the pat answer that they are simply following public health guidance.

If small businesses are to survive, the government needs to be more fair, diligent, and transparent while consumers need to put their money where their mouth is and support local small business.

~ Editors Note; Heather Hunter is a retired school teacher living in Cliffside. The opinions expressed are her own.