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Ontario: Is my retail business an “essential service”?

May 12, 2020

Reopening for essential & non-essential business

As of Tuesday, May 19, 2020 at 12:01am, all non-essential retailers with an external facing entrance (e.g. no inside a mall) may reopen, with customers in store. Non-essential business opening in this fashion must put in place additional social distancing restrictions, and ensure that no more that 1 customer per 4 square metres of sales floor space enter the store at one time.

In addition, retailers with fitting rooms may only use rooms with easy to clean hard surfaced doors (e.g. no curtains on fitting rooms), and may only use every second fitting room to ensure social distancing.

Retailers classified as essential businesses

Retailers who are considered essential businesses are allowed to continue to sell in-store. This includes:

  • Businesses that primarily sell food, beverages and consumer products necessary to maintain households and businesses including:
    • Supermarkets and grocery stores
    • Convenience stores
    • Discount and big box retailers selling groceries
    • Beer and wine and liquor stores
  • Pharmacies
  • Gas stations and other fuel suppliers
  • Vehicle retail, including auto
  • Hardware
  • Safety Supply Stores
  • Garden Centres

Essential businesses are allowed to continue to keep their doors open to the public. These businesses may continue to sell non-essential products as well as essential products.

View province’s full list of essential businesses.

Distribution Centres – allowed to remain open

Distribution Centres are defined as a facility that provides “distribution services, warehousing and storage”. Those portions of your business are allowed to remain open including support for transportation services such as “logistical support, distribution services, warehousing and storage, truck stops and tow operators”.

eCommerce is encouraged

eCommerce, including curbside pick-up, is allowed for all retailers (both essential and non-essential).

The essential business regulation states that:

Schedule 1, Section 1, Subsection (1.1) Despite subsection (1), a person responsible for a place of business that is not listed in Schedule 2 may cause the place of business to be opened for the purpose of engaging in retail sales to the public if,
(a)  the sales are exclusively made using an alternative method of sale such as curb side pick-up or delivery;
(b)  the place of business has a public entrance that opens onto a street or exterior sidewalk; and
(c)  no member of the public is permitted to access the place of business, except in exceptional circumstances.

Curbside payment

The Ontario Government’s Essential Business Frequently Ask Questions page highlights that:

“In the event that a wireless card reader is not available [for payment], a customer may enter a store only for the purposes of paying.”

While customers are discouraged from entering the store where possible, it is RCC’s understanding that access is allowed for payment. Retailers should structure their curbside payment model in a manner that POS systems are available at the front of the store. Some members have set up table in the front ‘mudroom’ vestibule doors, where they manage payment/pick-up, etc.

Reopening your business

The Essential Business regulation allows for retailers to attend the place of business for the purpose of reopening.

(2) Despite subsection (1), temporary access to a closed place of business that is not listed in Schedule 2 is authorized, unless otherwise prohibited by any applicable law, for the purposes of,

(a.1)  preparing the place of business to be reopened;

RCC understands ‘reopening’ to include a broad list of activities, including, but not limited to: cleaning, validate equipment is working and repairing if necessary, restocking, executing markdowns, resetting sales floor, and bringing the workplace health and safety standards inline with medical advice.


RCC will continue to fight to ensure retailers that need to close and those that are struggling are provided with as many relief options as possible.  Please visit retailcouncil.org/coronavirus-info-for-retailers regularly for updates. 

Useful Links

For more information, contact Sebastian Prins, Director, Government Relations (Ontario) at [email protected]

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