Toronto councillors will debate whether to let grocery stores stay open on holidays

Two days after Toronto’s major grocery and pharmacy chains shuttered their doors for much of the Easter weekend, the city’s politicians will review whether more stores should be allowed to be open on statutory holidays.

A change could hurt small businesses who control the market on those 9 holidays, advocate says

Toronto's licensing and standards committee will debating whether more stores should be allowed to open on statutory holidays. (iStockphoto)

Two days after Toronto's major grocery and pharmacy chains shuttered for much of the Easter weekend, city councillors will review whether more stores should get to stay open on statutory holidays.

Staff are recommending that the city launch a public consultation to decide whether grocers and other stores that sell prepared food could stay open for some, or all, of the nine affected days.

Syvil Taylor shops at a Loblaws grocery store in Toronto on a regular business day. Grocery stores that serve prepared food will be part of the review of holiday exemptions. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

The loopholes

That consultation would also look at ways of simplifying a bylaw full of loopholes and inconsistencies. Stores larger than 2,400 square feet, for example, must shut down — unless they're in the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Association, the Eaton Centre or the Hudson's Bay store, all of which are exempted because they draw tourists. 

"I think we have to look at it and say, 'When people want to open, they should have more ability to open,'" Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker said.

A successful court challenge won by the Longo's supermarket chain first in 2014, then upheld in Ontario's appeal court the following year, sparked the city to consider a review. The supermarket chain's legal team argued that since it served prepared meals — another exemption in the bylaw — the store ought to be allowed to stay open whatever days it wants.

Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker said it's time to open up the market on most holidays. (CBC)

De Baeremaeker said he plans to vote to send the issue to public consultation Tuesday when it comes up at the licensing and standards committee.

The Ward 38, Scarborough Centre councillor said traditional storefronts are competing with online shopping and they need to stay open. 

"I think there's a few core holidays that most of us will say that the whole city of Toronto should have a pause, but I think we should allow stores and customers to decide when they want to open and when they want to close." 

What it means for small business

But because smaller businesses have locked much of the market on those nine holidays, the CEO of Ontario's Convenience Store Association, Dave Bryans, said those days are critical to the survival of mom-and-pop shops.

While consumers may argue that closing a grocery store for a day poses a major inconvenience, Bryans said the current bylaw permits a wide variety of local shops to serve patrons.

"On holidays, I can take you from Leslieville to the Junction; every small business is open, from craft brewers to pizza stands," he said. "We don't need big-box grocers or drugstores taking over the city."

Dave Bryans, CEO of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association, said allowing more stores to open on holidays would hurt small businesses. (Keith Burgess/CBC)

Shopper Miguel Mendez said he hopes the committee and council will decide to relax the rules. 

"It's good for the economy and it's convenient for the consumer," he said. While Mendez said he understands it means for competition for smaller shops, he said that's an unfortunate side effect of doing business. 

"That's capitalism at its core: supply and demand."

I say to you, let the market dictate.- Coun. Jim Karygiannis, Scarborough-Agincourt

Three of the holidays — Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Christmas Day — are also Christian celebrations. And several councillors told CBC Toronto that those who are secular or who practise different faiths might prefer to work or have the option to shop on those days.

"You talk to a Muslim, they may say, 'It's important to be closed on Fridays, because it's our lord's day.' And then you're talking to the Jewish community and it's important to be closed on Saturday," Coun. Jim Karygiannis said. "So I say to you, let the market dictate."