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Hardware stores frustrated not to be listed as essential

Outdoor service: a customer receives their goods at Gorham's kerbside pickup service. Hardware stores are frustrated that they have not been listed as essential businesses (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Hardware stores should be listed as essential businesses and be allowed to have some customers indoors, even if it is restricted to tradespeople and contractors.

That’s the view of store owners and managers who have spoken of the frustrations they face being limited to kerbside pick-up and deliveries due to Covid-19 emergency regulations

Andrew Mackay, general manager at Gorhams, said: “The fact that hardware stores are not considered essential is ludicrous.”

He contrasted the situation with pharmacies, which are listed as essential businesses and can have customers inside. Some are part of larger premises, which means customers might also buy from a wide range of products including small appliances, toys, snacks and alcohol.

Mr Mackay said: “Last week we were allowed to do kerbside sales. People could come to the door and describe what they want and then we send an employee to get it and hope it is the right thing.”

But if the item turned out to be not exactly what was wanted by the customer, the process had to be repeated.

“It is just not practical for any business. We have an online ordering system, but it is never going to be fully adequate,” he said. “Contractors and tradesmen going to work are not going to stand in line for an hour to describe what they want.”

Mr Mackay said the current situation might last until early May, or could be extended. He said there is no indication what phase two will mean for retailers, and he warned: “If we have to go like this until June, the contractors are not going to make it.

“You have an industry that is frustrated. Let these stores that can get people back to work, open – even if it is 20 per cent capacity like before, or if you need a police officer checking numbers at the door.”

Mark Stearns, president of Masters, said his company was using e-mails and its online store, with a team also calling customers to double-check the item picked from the shop floor is what they are seeking before they come to collect it.

“We are more efficient than last year, but everyone has to wait,” Mr Stearns said.

He said there were tradespeople coming to the door, who know what they want and exactly where it is located. But it can take up to 10 minutes for store staff to look for what has been described to them and double-check it is the right selection.

One solution he suggested is to have restricted access. He said: “People are accustomed to going in and out quickly. Every aisle is one-way.”

Hardware stores in the US are considered essential business, he said, adding: “When there is a hurricane, what is the first place you call?”

Mr Stearns said if access to the store was limited or alphabetic, in line with grocery stores, customers would be happy. He added: “We are trying our best to take care of our customers.”

Simon Tully, president of the Construction Association of Bermuda, said hardware stores are the "grocery stores" that contractors and tradespeople need to carry out their jobs.

He said: "It is very frustrating if you are doing a quoted job and then you end up using more time because you're having to try and get what you need."

He believes one idea could be to only allow bona fide contractors to enter hardware stores to get what they need, with PPE worn and numbers strictly enforced.

"You restrict who comes in. Let contractors have access, not the general public. They go in, get what they need, and come right out,“ he said.

"I feel sorry for the Premier as he is trying to do the right thing. For the construction association and the hardware stores, it would be best to have been consulted first before we all went back to work, so that we could say what we required to carry out our industries safely. The industry can help the Government with their decisions."

The Royal Gazette asked the Government to comment on the situation, but had not received a response by press time.

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Published April 30, 2021 at 8:08 am (Updated April 30, 2021 at 8:08 am)

Hardware stores frustrated not to be listed as essential

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