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More retailers close, some defend staying open amid COVID-19


Retailers that have remained open as concerns around the spread of the novel coronavirus increase are either succumbing to pressure to shut their doors or explaining why they should be considered an essential service.

"Right now, we are focused on how we can continue to serve our communities in this time of need, while also being part of the solution," said Canadian Tire Corp. CEO Greg Hicks in an open letter to customers Thursday.

The company announced it would close its "non-essential retail banners" in Canada starting Friday until April 2. That includes its 402 SportChek stores and 380 Mark's outlets, according to its most recent quarterly report for the period up to Dec. 28, 2019. It will continue to pay its full- and part-time employees during the closure.

However, its namesake Canadian Tire stores will stay open with reduced hours.

"Our Canadian Tire retail stores are doing everything they can to deliver on the essential products Canadians need," said Hicks. "We are committed to doing our best to continue helping you navigate through this challenge, and this includes providing the essential products."

Canadian Tire stores, which totalled 667 locations as of the company's last financial filing, sell cleaning supplies and toilet paper — both of which have been in hot demand as shoppers stocked up in a buying frenzy in recent days.

Sleep Country Canada Holdings Inc. also defended its decision to keep its stores open, but with reduced hours. The company operates 276 stores and 17 distribution centres in the country as of March 10 this year, according to its website.

Customers have told the company they need help creating new sleeping arrangements in their homes as they house elderly relatives or create self-isolation areas for those they live with, said CEO Dave Friesema in an emailed statement Wednesday.

Sleep Country is trying to help customers while keeping its stores safe with hygiene and sanitization measures, he said.

"We are following government guidelines and will adjust our policies as necessary," said Friesema. "The situation is fluid and we are on high alert buy we remain ready and willing to take care of our customers during one of the most uncertain times of our lives."

Canadians are also facing technology needs amid the pandemic, said Best Buy Canada in a statement from its CEO to customers, with people requiring products to help them run a small business, shift from an office to their home, educate their children outside of school as well as store and prepare meals.

The company will remain open, but is shortening store hours starting Thursday and limiting the number of people allowed in a store. It has closed its mobile stores, located in malls, temporarily. The company has more than 175 stores across the country, according to its website.

Best Buy won't make any employees work if they feel uncomfortable doing so, and will pay employees who require sick leave or time to arrange childcare, said Corie Barry, chief executive.

"We are in a difficult time and find ourselves in unchartered waters."

Other companies decided to close altogether.

TJX Companies Inc., which operates about 500 stores across its Winners, HomeSense and Marshalls brands in Canada, announced it would close its stores globally for the next two weeks. It is also closing its online business, distribution centres and offices.

Birks Group Inc. announced it would close its stores starting Wednesday until at least April 1.

The closures have ramped up in recent days with major, national chains and small, independent businesses halting operations. This past week, Ikea Canada, Roots Canada, MEC, Hudson's Bay Co. and others have said they would temporarily close stores.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2020.

Companies in this story: (TSX:CTC.A, TSX:ZZZ, TSX:ROOT)

Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press