'Why can't I buy some munchies?' Customers, owner question store's $10K fine for opening on Good Friday
Foodfare owner Munther Zeid was handed $10,000 fine on Tuesday, which he says he'll fight in court
The owner of an independent chain of Winnipeg grocery stores is calling on the Manitoba government to scrap a provincial law after he was slapped with a $10,000 fine for opening on Good Friday.
"They say they stand for small business, and everybody is passing the buck," said an infuriated Munther Zeid Tuesday evening.
Zeid, who owns five Foodfare stores across the city, said two Winnipeg police officers handed him a $10,000 fine on Tuesday for having his West Portage location open on Good Friday.
"I was shocked."
Zeid knowingly broke Manitoba law when he opened the store. The Retail Businesses Holiday Closing Act prevents stores from operating on holidays defined in the act, including Good Friday.
But there are several exceptions to the act, which allow pharmacies, gas stations and cannabis stores to be open, for example.
The latter put Zeid over the edge on April 19 — Good Friday. He said when he found out a pot store was open, he decided to keep his doors open too, even after police came to his store on April 19 to warn him that what he was doing was illegal.
He adds he's been open on holidays for 20 years and never been fined before.
"How can you have a family day if you can't even buy a steak to cook on the barbecue?" he said.
Zeid doesn't think it's fair the government can make money by opening casinos on holidays, but he can't sell milk or bread.
"So what are we promoting? Let's have a family day by going to the casino, lose our money. Then we'll get drunk to forget about it and maybe get high too at the same time.
"I think that's kind of ridiculous."
'Why can't I buy some munchies?'
Shopper Jason McLean said if customers don't want to shop on a holiday that's their prerogative — but businesses shouldn't be ordered to close.
"If cannabis stores are open I don't see why I can't buy some munchies," he said while shopping at Foodfare Monday.
Customer Cindy McNab said the $10,000 fine is overboard. She thinks stores should be allowed to be open but should only be allowed to offer the basics.
"You got to sell necessities, but you're not going to get booze or [lottery] tickets," she said.
A press secretary for Minister of Growth, Enterprise and Trade Blaine Pedersen didn't say if the current Progressive Conservative government has plans to change the law.
"We recognize Manitobans have diverse opinions about the rules for holiday openings for retail businesses," David von Meyenfeldt said in an email.
"There are a number of different views on the topic and we'll continue to listen to what Manitobans have to say, including small business owners and employees."
Pharmacies allowed to sell groceries
Zeid is looking for a lawyer to fight the fine and is promising to be open on the next holiday — Canada Day. He points out that while the law allows pharmacies to be open, some, like Shoppers Drug Mart, sell much more than medicine.
"Half the store is a grocery store. I mean, some of the Shoppers are going to have a grocery section … the size of this store in their place," he said at his St. Matthews Foodfare.
A government spokesperson said individuals have the right to appeal convictions under the act. She added retail establishments with four or fewer employees, including the owner, may be exempt from the restriction.
But Zeid said employment standards officials have told him he can't be open because he normally operates with more than four employees.
"Everyone interprets the law a different way," he said.
Support has started to come in for what he's doing from shoppers across Canada, said Zeid.
"We've had calls from people across the country, from B.C. all the way to Halifax, telling us how crazy we are in Manitoba not allowing stores to open."
A petition is set to go online Wednesday and in Foodfare's five locations for customers to sign.
With files from Janice Grant