The World Forum - May 23rd, 2024

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As Ontario begins to reopen on Friday, furious retailers wonder why malls must stay closed


As retailers across Ontario get ready to welcome customers back Friday, there’s one major exception: Malls will still be mostly locked down.

And retailers and movie theatres in those malls are fuming that they won’t be part of Step 1 of the province’s plan to gradually ease COVID restrictions.

“If you had a bunch of really smart people sitting in a room trying to think up ways to kill retail, you couldn’t have done a better job than the Ford government,” said a furious David Bensadoun, CEO of Aldo Shoes.

Bensadoun, along with other mall retailers and the Retail Council of Canada, urged the provincial government Tuesday to let all retailers open Friday, pointing to rapidly falling new COVID cases and rising vaccination rates.

A spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott warned that those numbers can change.

“Highly contagious COVID-19 variants have demonstrated that key indicators can change very quickly and we must remain vigilant,” said spokesperson Alexandra Hilkene in an email.

(The small minority of mall stores which have an exit directly to the street are part of Stage 1; mall-based pharmacies and opticians have been allowed to stay open throughout most of the pandemic.)

Bensadoun suggested the provincial government should move directly to Step 2 for all non-essential retailers Friday, letting them open with 25 per cent capacity, rather than Step 1’s 15 per cent. The current plan calls for at least 21 days between each step.

Mall-based stores, said Rosen, are often focused on seasonal items like clothing and shoes, putting them in a particularly precarious situation while dealing with the uncertainty caused by lockdowns.

“The vast majority of stores in malls are seasonal. And a lot of them, including us, ordered spring inventory assuming we’d be able to open by now,” Rosen said.

While acknowledging that his bottom line would benefit from his mall-based stores reopening, Rosen said his employees have also been suffering during repeated lockdowns since the pandemic began last March.