Which retail businesses are ‘essential’ during the coronavirus outbreak?
The National Retail Federation (NRF) urged President Donald Trump last Thursday to come up with national guidance for state and local governments on what constitutes an “essential” retail business amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The request followed a Reuters report on Wednesday that detailed the confusion retailers are facing determining who can stay open, with many different states having different rules.
“Unfortunately, there remains a need for clear national guidance to resolve questions caused by a number of conflicting state and local orders that are triggering consumer, worker and business confusion, leading to cascading negative impacts on communities across the country,” NRF president and CEO Matt Shay wrote in a letter to Mr. Trump.
The organization listed a number of retailers it believes should be excluded from mandated closures now in place in some locales, including pet stores, distribution centers, farm stores with livestock feed, hardware stores, gas stations and highway rest areas for truck drivers. The Reuters report said authorities weren’t certain whether electronic stores, bookstores and hotels should be considered essential.
In California, a wide range of food sellers (from grocery stores, convenience stores to take-out restaurants), gas stations, pharmacies, banks and laundromats were deemed “essential services.” Businesses mandated to close included dine-in restaurants, bars and nightclubs, entertainment venues, gyms and fitness studios, public events and gatherings, and convention centers.
That leaves a lot of gray area, and the NRF said it’s a mistake that the final decision rests with the retailers themselves.
In San Francisco, cannabis dispensaries have been deemed essential after initially being ordered to close. Car dealerships have also successfully lobbied to stay open across California by arguing about the importance of cars for travel and delivery.
New York on Friday became the latest state to deem that liquor stores were an “essential” retailer. Yet last Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board closed all state-owned Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores as the virus began spreading across the state.
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board said in a statement, “In these uncertain and unprecedented times, the public health crisis must take priority over the sale of wine and spirits, as the health and safety of our employees and communities is paramount.”
- NRF Letter on Essential Retail Services Guidance – National Retail Federation
- What is essential? Retailers face confusion over government rules on store closings – Reuters
- Retail Trade Body Urges U.S. Government to Define an ‘Essential’ Retailer – The New York Times
- Retail group requests White House clarify ‘essential’ retail services – The Hill
- NRF Urges U.S. Government to Define ‘Essential’ Retailer – CNBC
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information for Consumers – Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board
- Will GameStop lose more than it wins keeping stores open during the coronavirus outbreak? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What factors should guide whether a retail business is “essential” during a coronavirus pandemic? Should retailers help guide such decisions? Should the decisions be made at a national level or local level?