How COVID-19 restrictions are unfair to small business owners

Sign outside of a business saying "Sorry we are now closed"


The devastation caused by Covid-19 has certainly been global and unprecedented. With shutters closing down across all major provinces of Canada including Ontario and Manitoba, businesses have been forced to adapt or risk becoming obsolete.


But assuming that all businesses have been affected equally misses out on the widespread disparities when it comes to the regulations issued by the Ministry of Labour. Some rules and guidelines are not only discriminatory but also unfair to small businesses and the communities which rely on them.


Recently the Government of Canada announced a lockdown till Dec 21st right before the holidays to counter the second wave of Covid-19. While this seems like a good idea to battle the recent spike in coronavirus cases across Canada, small businesses across its provinces fear missing out on the holiday season after months of slumping sales.


So if you are a small business owner struggling to make ends meet, it might be because of the incongruous and hasty decisions taken by the government in conjunction with the Ministry of Labor (MOL).


Let’s take some time to discuss why the new Covid-19 restrictions are unfair to small businesses across Canada.


Only the stores that sell “essential goods” can remain open


Before we proceed, let us identify what falls under the category of essential goods.


The Canadian Government has outlined anything indispensable for sustenance as “essential goods” meaning businesses that sell commodities like food items, medication, and sanitization supplies can remain open while the rest have been subjected to the new set of Covid-19 restrictions. 


The catch?


Most big businesses like Walmart or Costco which have in-house pharmacies or food supplies have been exempted from these restrictions. 


While it is legal, it is undoubtedly wrong because of the wide variety of goods that these big-box stores can sell to keep their business afloat while being compliant by exploiting the loopholes of the system. What this essentially means is that a store like Walmart can keep on selling shirts and books and jewelry and anything that would fall under “non-essential items” as long as it also sells essentials.


This is not an option for small businesses that have little cash flow and liquidity. As a result, most of them have either tried shifting their business towards essential goods or lose their livelihood. Some have tried taking their businesses online to little avail.


If it sounds unfair, that’s because it is. 


Small businesses are missing out on the holiday season


The new guidelines come at a time when small businesses are hoping to reverse some of the damage caused by the coronavirus by leveraging on the holiday season.


Whereas giants like Walmart can stay open and e-commerce goliaths like Amazon can still maintain an active online delivery chain, small businesses and local stores are being asked to not sell during the holidays.


Infuriating is an understatement of what the owners of those stores must feel. More often than not, holidays make up for over 30% of the yearly sales of these businesses. Some have even made significant investments in renovating and reimagining their brand to fit with the Christmas theme as a way to attract customers but with the recent regulations, all that effort has probably been in vain.


Any business-friendly province would reverse the regulations or issue some form of relaxation to compensate for the loss of economic activity throughout the year for these small businesses. Although safety should be the priority of any government, the plateau that these businesses will supposedly hit will be very difficult to recover from.


Going online is not an option for small businesses


While the internet has done a lot of great things, creating equality has not been one of them.


When Covid-19 first made its appearance, big brands and companies were able to create a massive online presence by capitalizing on the vast resources available at their disposal.


The result?


Most of them have pivoted and taken their business online preserving their bottom line and driving revenues each month.


This, however, is not an option for small businesses due to the lack of experience running an e-commerce business and the absence of a delivery network.


Even if they somehow managed to take their business online, it would be nothing compared to the amount of money they would have made with a physical store.


It should be the need of the hour for the government to ensure that these small businesses reeling under a failing economy survive and thrive without going bankrupt.


Small businesses pose a lesser risk in comparison


Although it is essential to fight the Coronavirus by following the guidelines of the Ministry of Labour (MOL), it is even more crucial to ensure the sustenance of small business which form the backbone of the Canadian economy.


Small businesses across Canada have been asked to stay shut whereas the big-box stores have been given a free pass to sell non-essential items alongside its essential ones.


The irony?


Chances of catching the Covid virus in a labyrinth as Walmart are substantially higher compared to the local store in your neighborhood. And with small businesses shutting down, guess where all the people are going to buy their holiday gifts?


The situation could have been a lot better with a modified lockdown that would have allowed small-businesses and retailers to compete with these big giants giving consumers the option to choose while maintaining the health and safety guidelines.


The partial decision by the government can end up hurting the economy in its path to recovery by jeopardizing small businesses and their owners.


Small businesses collectively employ a lot more people


Small business owners across Canada have been forced to cut down on their staff and employees to avoid financial ruin amidst the coronavirus rendering hundreds of people without jobs.


The new regulations don’t offer any relief forcing them into a corner from where recovery seems slow if not impossible. 


The regulations, however, don’t apply to big-box stores like Costco who have remained open by citing that essential goods form a major portion of the commodities that they sell.


The bias of the government towards these behemoths have been apparent from the start. One of the reasons behind this inclination might be the large number of employees that these stores employ.


However, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.


The numbers show that small businesses collectively employ a lot more people compared to big-box stores. Most of these employees have worked for the same business for years and consider themselves a part of the family.


Letting go is not just a financial conundrum but also a grave emotional burden for these small businesses that have been forced to downsize amidst the new regulations from the Ministry of Labour(MOL) and the government.


Small businesses can look after their customers better


If you are buying a book from your local store, is the experience different from buying it at a Costco?


Of course, it is.


The difference is in the personal attention that a local book-store owner will be able to give you.


Not only does this make for a better customer experience, but it also makes for a safer one.


Because when you are browsing through the bookshelf of a Costco, you don’t know who has been there before or whether it has been sanitized properly. It is much more difficult for a 73000 sq ft store to look into every little possible detail.


But think of the book store in your locality and you would be able to visualize how easy it must be for the store owner to sanitize every nook and cranny of his establishment. With a smaller number of people to cater to daily, the store owner would also be able to take proper precautions concerning sanitization and temperature monitoring.


While the Ministry of Labour and the government including the premier of Ontario, Doug Ford has urged citizens to shop local and support local businesses, the recent guidelines come as a stark deviation from the initiatives and political jargon adopted earlier in support of small businesses.


In the long run, the bias towards these big-box stores and away from small businesses might lead to the permanent closure of a lot of them, and with 160000 businesses across Canada already shut down, the reality might be closer than you think.


Small businesses make your travel less


Making a perfect itinerary to last the entire month is impossible, especially during the holiday seasons.


But with the recent restrictions and guidelines in place, the reality is that consumers need to rush to their nearest big-box store every time they need the smallest non-essential item.


What if the way you travel is not safe?


Every time you take a long commute or public transport, you risk exposing yourself and everyone around you to the virus.


Relaxing the lockdown regulations on small businesses will solve this problem for sure by cutting down on travel.


Additionally, as a consumer, you are much more privy to the health and safety conditions of your local stores as compared to a Walmart far from home.


So if you are a small business owner being forced to drop your shutters or risk strife with the law, ask yourself whether it’s fair or not.


If the answer is a resounding no, the next step is to ask the government and the Ministry of Labour (MOL) the reasons that the big-box stores can remain open while you can’t.


It is only when you voice your opinions that you stand a chance to survive in a partial system amidst a pandemic.


Small businesses can take a lot more accountability


While big-box stores like Walmart have huge resources and employees at their disposal, small-businesses make do with whatever little they have.


So a health violation or a legal penalty can be the death blow to a business reeling under the pressure of the pandemic which is why they are more likely to take responsibility and accountability to ensure a safe workplace.


Most of these businesses work with small groups of employees which is why a single case of Covid infection can make the business non-operational. There is an additional burden of jumping the hoops of bureaucracy, likely suspension of business, and hundreds of dollars in medical expenses and accidental coverage.


When the stakes are this high, you know that these businesses will do their level best to survive.


If you are a small business owner and can relate to the above line of reasoning, then it is time to highlight it to the outside world. 


The recent guidelines haven’t been fair, to say the least, but focusing on key aspects of your operation and the safety guidelines that you follow can help you reach out to your loyal customers online and pivot your business.




Allowing big-box stores to operate while small businesses are struggling to put food on the plate is unfair and discriminatory to its core. The above reasons resonate in solidarity with the business owners trying to put up a decent fight against the economic implications of the pandemic.


By now you should be convinced that the coronavirus regulations have been really unfair to small businesses. But is there anything you can do about it?


A likely solution might be to upskill yourself by utilizing this time in getting a health and safety certification. The skills you acquire through this certification are transferable and can be of great use, whether you are running a business or working for a company.


This is why at 4S Consulting Services, we strive to empower you with the tools you need to navigate this pandemic better. We have taken our courses and certifications online so that you can equip yourself safely with the right knowledge and education to make your business safer for your employees and your customers.


Open up a world full of new prospects and possibilities with certifications that you can avail yourself of from the safety of your living room.


Reach out to us and get certified today!

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