Two-month closure a disaster for small shops
Many small retailers could be in “dire trouble” if their stores remain shuttered throughout May because of the Covid-19 pandemic and shelter-in-place regulations, a shop owner has warned.
The businessman said he had built up a contingency fund over several years to deal with trade downturns.
However, he added: “I don't think any business could have planned for or foreseen something like this.” He asked: “How long can you go?”
The man added: “If we are not operating at some level at some time in May and you're heading towards a two-month closure, in general, most businesses will be in dire trouble.”
The shop owner, who asked not to be named, highlighted the financial strains and hardships faced by himself and others and offered suggestions for consideration by the Government.
He said he had tried to pivot to offer online sales, with the view to allowing customers to collect at the kerbside outside his premises in Hamilton.
The store owner explained his online shopping portal was set up, but he did not have a permit to operate over the restrictions and he could not apply for one because his retail operation was not on the list of types of business being considered.
The shop owner respected the need for restrictions. But he added: “We are not wishing to add to the issues, but if we are able to function within a very narrow guideline, established by Government, we feel we should be given that opportunity or be given the opportunity to be told ‘no'.”
He was referring to the permitted businesses application form, under which certain types of business can apply for a permit to operate. The list of eligible business types includes paint stores, pet shops, and hardware stores.
The man said: “At the top of the form you have to make a declaration that you are one of the businesses listed, and which business you are. The point is, I'm not able to communicate with Government to say ‘this is what I've done, this is what I can do. This is how I can operate'. I don't have the opportunity, but that's all I want.”
He added: “I'm just a regular business wanting to try and survive in some manner and to be able to put my ideas forward to whoever makes the decision, but right now I can't.”
He also suggested that the current form that listed eligible businesses should include an option for “other business type” so that applications could at least be submitted.
David Burt, the Premier, said on Wednesday that he had asked the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation “to look at how we could possibly allow small businesses that are only staffed by persons from a single household, to be able to possibly go and fulfil orders that may be placed online, so they can go ahead and participate in economic activity”.
Mr Burt added that shipping and freight companies were opened up to clear items off the docks but “not to allow persons to engage in new rounds of online shopping for things that they cannot buy in Bermuda because the stores are closed” as he spoke about restrictions on new “non-essential packages” being delivered through air-courier services.
The Hamilton shop owner praised the move, but highlighted the financial strain his business was under due to pandemic restrictions. Operating expenses continue to mount while cashflow had dried up.
The man said: “The machine of the business is still moving. You still have stock. Not only do you have your rent and your taxes and your health insurance, you have to pay because goods are still flowing and were flowing before shutdown.
“This time of year in retail is normally your highest inventory levels because you are coming towards your busiest season, and you're at your lowest cash level because all your money has gone out and been invested in items.
“Then you get shut down and there's no cash coming in to replace the cash that has gone out. It's a double-whammy.”
He said it would be helpful if the Government could give retailers a heads-up.
The man explained: “If Government says on May 2 ‘retail, you can open and here's your criteria'. Well, that criteria could take days to satisfy, maybe even a week or ten days.”
He added that if the intention was to allow retailers to reopen, then being told in advance, while they were still closed, would allow them use the time to plan.