As people and businesses struggle to adapt to COVID-19, people are becoming less supportive of how their provincial governments are handling the situation (iStock)

COVID: Retailers suffer mental health issues: Formal request to stay open

It should be a retail sales boom. December is the busiest month of the year for many retailers and service industry operations.

But with COVID case numbers rising new emergency restrictions are being imposed. Those business owners still suffering from previous lockdowns and closings, find their stress increasing as they worry about the future of their business and that of their employees.

The latest survey by the 110,000 member Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) was published in November for the month of October. This was prior to several jurisdictions and provinces recently instituting new restrictions. It showed almost half of respondents (47%) expressing concern about ‘overwhelming stress’, and in spite of government programmes offering emergency funding,  more than a quarter (26%) were worried about losing their business entirely.

For some,  the situation has meant simply closing the store, while others are struggling to adapt to online sales and ‘curbside’ pickup. However,  as Winnipeg, Manitoba bookseller Chris Hall told the CBC of the change to online sales, “The amount of labour that this style of selling requires is two, maybe three, times higher than normal, On the other side of that, this a fraction of the sales we would be normally getting — so we’re earning much less [and] working much harder.”

In Toronto, members of the Roncesvalles Village business association recently joined a campaign to show what the street would look like if they had to close due to financial loss. Several of the many independent stores on the street have already closed (CBC)

Canada’s biggest city, Toronto, and neighbouring Peel region have announced once again that ‘non-essential’ business must close as a method to curtail spread of the SARS-CoV2 virus.

While big box stores, often foreign controlled, remain open along with those declared essential like grocery and pharmacy operations, local businesses declared non-essential have been told to close once again.

Quoted by PostMedia, a Toronto spa owner said she had tears in her eyes when she heard of the latest lockdown, adding that while big box stores can remain open, her ‘non-essential’ operation must close. Expressing concern for herself and her staff she said,  “It’s essential to us”, adding,” I need a roof over my head”. She also said she’s never felt so exhausted and she feels like she’s in a dark tunnel, with no light to get out.

Tweet from Drum N Flats, a restaurant bar in Toronto, expressing the feelings of frustration of many small business at the Ontario Premier and Toronto mayor, John Tory (twitter)

A comment on the CFIB website says, “It is outrageous that today’s restrictions once again create an unfair advantage for big box operators like Walmart and Costco, leaving Main Street retailers to shoulder the burden alone.”

Yesterday a collation of retailers sent an open letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford. In it they say the lockdown and closure of ‘non-essential’ operations may make things worse by funneling shoppers together into the big box stores.

They also note that “In the process, Canadian retail businesses are being destroyed and tens of thousands of jobs are being lost. This, despite the fact that only 0.2% to 0.9% of recent weekly cases related to outbreaks have been associated with retail environments, according to the Government of Ontario’s own statistics”.

They add, “Retailers of all sizes are being forced to lay off good people in hundreds of stores closed by an ineffective policy. Rather than hire thousands of temporary workers to handle the holiday rush, so-called non-essential retailers will hire zero. Once lost, many of these jobs won’t return”

They suggest that all stores remain open but with a 25 per cent capacity limit noting that “Together with mandatory mask policies, social distancing, hand sanitization and the numerous other safety measures already in place, capacity limits can further reduce the potential for community spread while enabling more businesses to stay open across all regions during a make-or-break season for retail businesses”.

Steve Joordans, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto is quoted by PostMedia saying, the constant stress of business owners leads to anxiety and depression which can lead to weakened immune systems on one hand and a risk of suicide on the other.

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