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Gibbons executive hits out at restrictions

A rule to limit retail business customers to certain shopping days was criticised by a leading sector figure yesterday.

Paula Clarke, the chief executive of Gibbons Company, said the requirement that customers could only shop on the same designated days they were allowed to grocery shop “didn't really make a lot of sense”.

She added: “The same restrictions aren't made for restaurants, for example. That is a negative, as far as we are concerned.”

She said the rule could also make it harder for busy customers who also needed to plan to grocery shop on the same day.

David Burt, the Premier, announced on Monday that retail stores would be allowed to reopen for in-store customers tomorrow as the island moved to the second phase of the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions.

Mr Burt said that businesses would be required to only permit certain customers to shop each day based on their surname, in line with a rule on grocery stores. Customers would also be capped at 20 per cent of the maximum occupancy allowed under fire regulations.

Ms Clarke said the announcement that stores would be allowed to reopen was welcome news. She added: “We do know that there is some pent-up demand from our customers.”

Ms Clarke, the former chairwoman of the retail division of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, said there had been uncertainty over how many customers could be inside the store.

She explained: “When we looked at our fire permit, occupancy is not part of the fire permit document. We've spent the day trying to determine what that number should be. I think possibly the fire department has been caught a little on the back foot by that one.”

A government spokesman said last night the maximum occupancy refers to anyone inside the retail space, including staff.

“The occupancy figure is determined using the square footage of a retail space and the National Fire Protection Association 101 — Life Safety Code prescribed square footage per person. For example, a retail space of 1000 sq ft that has its sale floor at street level is prescribed 30 sq ft per person. This figure changes if the sales floors are above or below grade or occupy multiple floors.”

Paul Slaughter, the general manager of Washington Properties, owner of the Washington Mall in Hamilton, said news of the 20 per cent occupancy limit had come as “a bit of a surprise”.

He explained: “Very few of the smaller retail establishments have the fire certificates. A lot of the tenants are now struggling to find that information, which we as the landlord don't have because it applies to each premises.”

The Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service asked businesses hoping to reopen to send requests for information about maximum occupancy levels by e-mail.

A spokesman said yesterday: “Due to the high demand of occupancy-related requests ... we are requesting all information be submitted via e-mail to fireprotection@gov.bm. Therefore, in an effort to turn around your request as quickly as possible, we will not be fielding questions via landline or office visits.”

He added that requests should include the names of both the building and the business, the address, the floor level and the square footage.

Ms Clarke said that she hoped that physical distancing measures put in place by Gibbons Company would be enough if the business did not hear back from the fire department.

She added the company had made the safety of its staff and customers a priority, including in securing personal protective equipment and signage, and through a ramped-up cleaning regime.

Ms Clarke said: “We recognise the need to do it. We want to protect ourselves and protect others.”

Edmund Gibbons Ltd, the parent company of Gibbons Co, drinks firm Burrows Lightbourn and Bermuda Motors, announced this month that staff had had their hours and pay cut by 50 per cent, effective May 4.

A spokesman said the move came after sales plummeted because of Covid-19. Ms Clarke highlighted that Gibbons Company employees had received full pay and benefits for the six weeks after the store was first closed because of the coronavirus in March.

Ms Clarke added: “It's impossible for us to gauge when we could return to maybe 60 per cent pay, or 75 per cent pay, or 100 per cent pay for 100 per cent hours. We just don't know. There are too many unknowns. We're looking at that every day, every week.”

Ms Clarke said that the reopening of retails business this week “begins the process of recovery” for the sector.

However she cautioned: “Recovery is going to be very long and quite painful. We're hoping that people will continue to shop locally and keep those dollars circulating in Bermuda.”

Not a happy camper: Paula Clarke, Gibbons Company chief executive

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Published May 20, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated May 20, 2020 at 8:37 am)

Gibbons executive hits out at restrictions

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