Late-night shopping trips to your local store will now be possible thanks to new legislation allowing extended operating hours on Sundays and most other holidays, starting this weekend.
The province has proclaimed legislation that removes requirements for retailers to close up shop by 6 p.m. — allowing some businesses a boost in revenue during the holiday season, and flexibility to provide longer hours for in-store shopping.
Business leaders and stakeholders say, however, it remains to be seen if the bill’s too little or too late.
Finance Minister Scott Fielding told the Free Press the legislation’s being hurried because of COVID-19.
He said while Manitoba was already making progress to enact the Retail Business Hours of Operation Act, business advocates urged the government to expedite it and allow some leeway for stores to make up for pandemic losses.
"Given public health restrictions in place to protect Manitobans, we want to allow more opportunity for businesses and customers," said Fielding in a statement Thursday. "This includes curbside pickup and delivery options, as well as longer in-person shopping hours to minimize crowds."
A provincial spokesperson confirmed opening hours for retailers will not be affected under the bill. Should a store wish to open early and also close late, they can do so under the new legislation, the spokesperson added.
But individual municipalities across Manitoba can override the bill through regional bylaws. And restrictions on operating hours for Remembrance Day will still remain in effect.
"A majority of Manitoba’s business owners support these changes," said Fielding. "During this critical time for retailers across the province, we believe these updated laws will help many businesses with additional revenues as we head into the holiday season."
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said he only learned of the measure Thursday morning through a provincial government release. "There hasn’t been any outreach to our office," he said in a statement.
But, Bowman added, he’s supportive of giving local businesses the flexibility to operate businesses "based on the needs of their individual customers and employees, and their respective industry."
Retailers have been asking the province for several years to change the restrictions, and bring them in line with other businesses currently exempt from them (such as pharmacies, liquor stores, casinos and restaurants).
Prior to the new bill, Manitoba was the only province in Western Canada to restrict retail hours on Sundays and holidays. Fielding said that’s why "our government has been committed to modernizing our outdated and complicated shopping laws."
In mid-November, an open letter to the province from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Retail Council of Canada, and both the Winnipeg and Manitoba Chambers of Commerce urged the changes be made immediately. Fielding said that letter was significant in the sweeping passage of the bill.
"In a lot of ways, this is really just a catch-up," said John Graham, director of government relations at the Retail Council. "It’s a catch-up to other provinces and also a catch-up to the opportunities lost during Black Friday sales or the first weeks of December when businesses couldn’t do this."
From a safety perspective, Graham added, "it’s also a win-win because stores can introduce specialized hours for seniors or other vulnerable shoppers."
Winnipeg Chamber Loren Remillard said the change is "absolutely needed, particularly as online e-commerce has transformed retail beyond 9-5 p.m."
"It’s about time we get out of the dark ages because businesses are now not just competing with one another, but they’re also competing with retail giants that are online and 24-7," said Manitoba Chambers CEO Chuck Davidson, who’s been advocating for the changes for more than a decade.
"As someone who runs a particular business, who’s better than yourself to know the time your customers will come to shop and when you should be open? Government’s shouldn’t be the ones making that call."
Munther Zeid, who owns and operates Food Fare grocery stores in Winnipeg, said he’s "baffled’ it took so long to make the legislative changes. "It’s about damn time they did something for local businesses they claim to be standing up for," he said.
Zeid called out the Manitoba government for "ridiculous restrictions" last year when he was slapped with a $10,000 fine for opening his store on Good Friday.
"I don’t know if I’ll be changing my hours right this weekend because I have to think of my workers’ schedules and things like that," Zeid told the Free Press Thursday. "But when so many businesses are suffering, I really am glad they’re easing this restriction. It’ll be a big help for so many folks."
The changes take effect on Dec. 12 — though current COVID-19 restrictions limiting only "essential" in-store shopping will still remain in place
Temur Durrani reports on the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for this Free Press reporting position comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.