• Hunter Cresswell


Non-essential businesses and schools closed through Jan. 10

While no business owner is completely satisfied with the Quebec government’s orders to shutdown for two weeks starting on Christmas Day, Gatineau Hills non-essential business owners have shared mixed reactions to the announcement.

Jamboree co-owners Tanya and Gaye Chicoine aren’t ecstatic about being forced to close for two weeks following Christmas, but they said they’re making the best of it by thinking of it as more of a vacation than a forced closure. The Quebec government recently announced that all non-essential businesses must close from Dec. 25 to Jan. 10 to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hunter Cresswell photo

Jamboree co-owners Tanya and Gaye Chicoine in Wakefield aren’t happy about it, but said they’re treating it as a pseudo-vacation after a trying year, while Maison Tivoli owner Sam Asseer in Chelsea sees this as another example of the province’s heavy-handed and misguided efforts to slow and stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In mid-December, Quebec Premier François Legault announced that all non-essential businesses will have to close from Dec. 25 through Jan. 10. He also mandated teleworking for most office workers during that period for both the public and private sector.

Gaye, the home decor and gift shop co-owner, said the pandemic has thrown the business for a loop, but she and her daughter, Tanya, are trying to make the best of the situation.

“In the months that we were open, we were going crazy,” she said.

But they said they will miss out on sales between Boxing Day and New Year’s, which usually is busy for the store.

“It is going to take a good quarter of our December sales,” Gaye admitted, “but we’ll survive.”

She said that the shopping season leading up to the holidays and the summer brought in a good amount of sales.

“When [Legault] announced that we have to close for two weeks, at first I was like, ‘Oh no!’ but then I thought, ‘Oh yeah, I don’t have to work,’” Gaye said.

Despite missing out on sales, Gaye said it will be a well-deserved break.

Asseer, the Chelsea home decor and design store owner, expressed frustration at the government’s planning, or as he roughly put it, utter lack of planning.

“This shutdown again is the most ridiculous thing ever,” he said, later adding, “Those dummies never ran a business!”

Asseer said he thought things were going well and that his shop had adapted to the new normal, so he bought some new stock. He’s now afraid that he’s left high and dry, since he won’t be able to sell it until mid-January.

“They are breaking the supply chain,” he said.

Big box stores can rely on corporate coffers to get them through the lean times, which isn’t the case for small businesses, Asseer explained. This means that box stores like Walmart can buy stock, like Asseer did, and afford to sit on it until they’re allowed to sell it. At that time, those big stores will likely sell those older items at a discount to make room in storerooms and on shelves for newer products. Maison Tivoli, Asseer said, doesn’t have that luxury.

“They’re virtually trying to wipe out the small businesses. Thank you very much, Quebec government,” he added sarcastically.

So what businesses can operate during the mini-shutdown?

According to the provincial website, pet food and supply stores; medical, orthopedic and eye-care stores; work equipment stores; cleaning businesses and shops that sell household and building maintenance products; farm equipment or supply stores; car repair garages; convenience stores; grocery stores; pharmacies; hardware stores; sports equipment stores; and provincial alcohol and marijuana shops.

Big box stores are allowed to operate as well but, along with drug and hardware stores, they must only sell essential products, such as food.

“[Those] store operators must ensure that the necessary steps are taken to prevent access to and the sale of other products,” the Quebec government website states.

During the last non-essential business shutdown earlier during the pandemic, this caveat wasn’t included for megastores, who sold essential and non-essential items, much to the chagrin of small businesses — many who since have had to close their businesses.

All essential businesses must comply with health guidelines dictating the number of customers allowed in a store based on the amount of retail space customers have access to.

Schools closed

Preschool, elementary and high schools are closed during the non-essential business shutdown too. Distancing services will be provided to students through Jan. 10 according to each school’s calendar, the website states.

Childcare services will remain open, but families are asked to keep their children home if possible. Special needs schools will also stay open and some students may be allowed to attend school so their progress isn’t affected.

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