Toronto city staff is recommending council conduct public consultations as to whether retailers, including grocery stores, should be permitted to open on statutory holidays such as Good Friday and Victoria Day.
In a report, city staff recommended public hearings to review exemptions in the city’s holiday shopping bylaw in order to “ensure clarity and relevance” for small business establishments; the current criteria for tourist area exemptions; and develop an application process for retailers to request an exemption from the current municipal code to operate on public holidays.
Instituted in 2006, the city’s holiday shopping bylaw applies to nine holidays including New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Victoria Day, Canada Day and Labour Day. It features a broad array of exemptions including for stores less than 2,400 square feet selling products such as fruits and vegetables, as well as businesses such as gas stations and nurseries.
It also provides exemptions for businesses operating in five designated tourist areas: The Toronto Eaton Centre, downtown Yonge Street, Bloor-Yorkville, Queens Quay West and the Distillery District.
Gary Sands, senior vice-president, public policy and advocacy with the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers (CFIG) in Toronto, says the organization has been pushing for the bylaw to be updated for some time.
“It’s so out of date,” says Sands, who takes particular umbrage with the five tourist zones in the bylaw. None apply to his Scarborough neighbourhood, he says, despite the fact it houses popular tourist attractions including the Toronto Zoo and Scarborough Bluffs.
“What you’re saying to businesses in the non-exempt areas is that they’re second-tier. They’re at a competitive disadvantage,” says Sands. “How can small businesses have to be shut while the guy down the street, in this arbitrary tourism-exempt area, can be open?
“They’re paying the same taxes and doing exactly the same thing, but depending on what side of the street you’re on, one store is closed and the other store is open. How can you possibly justify that?”
Sands says many of the exemptions fail to take into account key factors such as the city’s growing diversity (with many store owners potentially indifferent to holidays like Victoria Day or Christian holidays like Christmas and Good Friday) as well as a rapidly changing business climate.
An exemption allowing pharmacies to open, for example, was created before Loblaw Companies Limited’s 2013 acquisition of Shoppers Drug Mart. “You can walk into a Shopper’s Drug Mart and buy meat, bread, eggs and milk, yet the grocery store beside that Shopper’s has to be closed,” says Sands.
The report also notes Longo’s successfully battled a legal challenge from the city for opening two locations on a holiday. Longo’s argument was it served prepared meals, another area permitted under the city bylaw – though the city has historically taken the position that this exemption applied solely to restaurants.
Longo’s did not respond to interview requests by press time.