Toronto’s shopping culture is one step closer to change after city council’s Economic Development Committee voted Thursday in favour of giving retailers the choice to open on holidays.
City council will now vote to decide if retailers can open for nine statutory holidays, including Christmas Day, Good Friday and New Years Day.
Laura Schaefer is the coordinator of the newly formed Queen Street West BIA. She wants the businesses she represents to have that choice.
“Queen Street West is a tourist destination, and we want to give our businesses the opportunity to participate,” Schaefer said. “The opportunity for people to be able to come and shop and play on Queen Street during a holiday.”
A total of 12 representatives from BIAs, retailers and property managers across the city addressed the council, all in favour of the amendment.
In 2006, the City of Toronto Act gave the city control over regulating retail stores on public holidays. However, many operations receive exemptions under the act, including movie theatres, bars, restaurants and some small bookstores and pharmacies.
John Kiru represents the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) an umbrella organization which promotes Toronto’s 71 BIAs and their 27,000 businesses.
Stores in designated tourism areas, such as the Toronto Eaton Centre, are permitted to stay open, he pointed out. Meanwhile shopping districts outside of the city fall outside of the act, giving them an advantage.
“In the outer regions (of) Toronto, places like Pacific Mall… are allowed to open, and yet within the city, we have places like… Yorkdale… in that same catchment of regional shopping context, that aren’t allowed to open,” Kiru said. “It does put Toronto at a major disadvantage.”
The motion did meet some resistance in committee, with concern raised over the issue of retailers coercing their employees to work on public or religious holidays. The Employment Standards Act would protect these rights, they were advised.
Of the six city councillors on the committee, Case Ootes was the only one to vote against the amendment. He was unconvinced that the city could protect every employee from being forced to work a statutory holiday.
“The pressure and dynamics where you’ve got a small operation, where you’ve got… employees who don’t want to work. But they’re going to work, whether they like it or not,” Ootes said. “Anybody who doesn’t believe that is kidding themselves.”
Coun. Brian Ashton however moved the amendment to a vote.
“I think it’s time that we took the closed sign on the doors and flipped it over to open, and truly reflect the community we have in it,” he said.
City Council will meet May 11 and 12 to vote on changing the Municipal Code Chapter 510, Holiday Shopping.