TORONTO – Ontario’s reopening plan is being lambasted by some of the country’s top retail and cinema executives, who argue the plan will further gut businesses after enduring one of the world’s longest lockdowns.
“We’ve been closed, except for a few days, since last November,” said Indigo Books and Music CEO Heather Reisman.
“Every day hurts,” she said, adding: “We’re dying.”
The first step of Ontario’s reopening plan begins on Friday, which will allow all non-essential retail to reopen at 15 per cent capacity but keep retail stores in malls closed unless they have a street-facing entrance.
While many of Indigo’s stores will be allowed to open, some are located in malls and will remain shuttered.
“There is simply no medical reason for all Ontario retail not to open as soon as possible,” Reisman said. “We are the only people in North America to be shut.”
The price retailers have paid to remain closed during the pandemic has been devastating, she said.
“Retailers are desperate to open,” Reisman said. “The impact on the workforce is overwhelming. It’s brutal.”
Meanwhile, movie theatres will not be able to open until Step 3 of Ontario’s reopening plan, a situation Cineplex president Ellis Jacob called “insane.”
“Lumping movie theatres into stage three is both unfair and misguided,” he said, noting that there hasn’t been a COVID-19 case tied to a movie theatre.
“We’ve had over seven million people come to our theatres during the pandemic, and we never had an issue,” Jacob said. “We’ve been operating safely in Quebec since February with a much higher number of guests.”
He added: “Alberta is opening tomorrow, British Columbia is opening next week. By the end of next week, Ontario will be one of the few places around North America that will still not have movie theatres open.”
The reopening plan also leaves 5,000 workers in the lurch, he said.
“Our employees and guests can’t wait to come back,” Jacob said, noting that big blockbuster movies like F9 – the latest in the Fast and Furious franchise – is slated to open June 25.
“That’s going to be a big movie of the summer. There’s all kinds of movies being released that are doing extremely well and we do not have the benefit, and neither do our guests.”
The Retail Council of Canada is calling on Ontario to allow all retail to open at the same time – including those within malls.
“Our members have absorbed unbearable financial, emotional stress, job losses and business closures, all without improving health outcomes,” the industry group that represents retail across the country said in a statement.
“There is no medical evidence to support the continued lockdown of businesses,” the retail association said. “In fact, the government’s own data shows that in-store COVID-19 transmissions are almost non-existent.”
The retail council said retailers “have had no choice but to swiftly rewrite their plans throughout the past year and we are now asking the government to do the same.”