MONTREAL – In February 2020, Helen Felemegos said that an inspector from Quebec’s Ministry of Economy and Innovation walked past her family’s toy store without warning.
At the end of the year, Toys LOL Toys was fined $ 2,250 in the mail for operating their store after 5 pm on a weekend.
“Absolutely incredible, we cannot believe that our own government would act so cruel and be so callous to the current situation,” Felemegos said.
With many brick and mortar stores like hers struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic, she says the good hits are below the belt.
A provincial law limits the hours of operation of commercial establishments. But that law is decades old, and Felemegos says it doesn’t match the reality small businesses face today.
She says that although they have turned to online sales, many of their customers prefer to visit the store in person.
“They work and like to come on weekends, and how are we supposed to compete with the big box stores that are allowed to stay open later?”
The city can ask for exemptions – it is what it does for festivals and tourist areas, and more recently for record stores.
After several independent record stores were fined up to $ 3,000 for opening after 5 p.m., they argued that the law no longer made sense.
After strong public pressure, these fines were dropped just before their court dates.
The city agreed to change the rules, and now record stores in Montreal can stay open later. But one of the owners who fought for change wonders why more isn’t being done to support small independent stores of all kinds.
“Why are their inspectors walking around and fining small businesses just minutes after they close, when big box stores like Archambault can open much later than an independent store?” Said Phonopolis owner Jordan Robson-Cramer.
Archambault is the largest music retailer in Quebec.
In a statement, the mayor’s office said there was no “one size fits all” solution.
“There is also a need to weigh the concerns of residents, in many cases. We will speak to the owner of the affected businesses and offer all possible assistance.
The Quebec Ministry of the Economy did not respond to a request for comment.
Felemegos says small businesses are the lifeblood of a healthy neighborhood, and she believes the city and province are quietly letting them go.
“We are doing our best to keep the community together, but the government just seems to be trying to tear us apart,” she said.
His family plan to challenge the fine by a court date set for next week.