Retailers reopen reluctantly

Employers’ groups estimate that only 10 to 50 per cent of shops that were allowed to open on Monday actually did so

A half-hearted return to business. Employers’ groups can’t agree on the percentage of retailers that opened for business on Monday, but their preliminary data suggests that only 10 to 50 per cent of shops did open.

Àlex Goñi, the chairman of Pimec’s retail division [an employers’ group], claims that “between 40 and 50 per cent” of shops opened their doors on Monday after nearly two months in lockdown. In contrast, Barcelona Comerç, the organisation that represents 24 shopping centres in Barcelona city, revealed that “10 per cent of the shops in our centres that remained shuttered since the state of emergency was declared have opened for business again”.

On Monday morning a short stroll around Barcelona’s Gràcia and Sarrià-Sant Gervasi districts confirmed that the retail sector shows little enthusiasm to go back to work. Even though hair salons had long queues outside of people looking to get an appointment, photocopy, shoe and furniture shops remained shut. Some beauty salons and physiotherapy centres were open, but several dry cleaners remained closed.

According to Pimec, the number of retail businesses that opened was very consistent across Catalonia, with small differences from one county or municipality to the next. As for specific sectors, Goñi pointed out that 80 of hair salons were open for business, whereas restaurants remained closed except for those offering a takeaway service. In other sectors, like dry cleaners, about 30 per cent of businesses opened their doors. Pimec’s figures were only preliminary and were collected at noon, so they might have been different by the end of the day.

Goñi also pointed out that the need to work by appointment only meant that shopkeepers who aren’t used to it were having some issues. In fact, the large number of hair salons that went back to work is due to the fact that hairdressers “are typically used to working by appointment”. Goñi also mentioned the problems caused by the need to “ensure that retail spaces meet the required safety standards”, which meant that some were unable to open at the usual time and others will even need to wait until Tuesday or Wednesday. Despite his complaints, the Pimec representative noted that the retail sector “was really looking forward to getting back to work” after being in the freezer for two months.

This was confirmed by Barcelona Comerç in a press release stating that “the restrictions that remain in place today and the new safety measures made many shops reluctant to open on Monday by appointment only and they will be going back to business later this week”. Barcelona Comerç believes that “20 per cent of all shops” will be open by the end of the week, on top of those that never shut during the lockdown. “The bulk of retail operations intend to open their doors on May 11”, they said.
On this point, the retail industry regrets that the exact measures ordered by the Spanish government were not announced until Sunday evening. “Many of our members have protested that the BOE [Spain’s official gazette] outlining the exact steps to be taken was not published till Sunday afternoon, Goñi said, and he went on to complain that “there is no cash to help the retail industry: we have endured two full months [of lockdown] and all of a sudden we are being rushed back into business”.

The added costs incurred by the new health and safety measures are the main hurdle for many shopkeepers. Goñi says “it’s yet another expense”. Chiefly among the measures is the need to clean shops twice a day, maintaining social distancing between staff and shoppers and the added expense of having to purchase additional items, such as gloves, protective screens, masks and sanitiser gel. In the case of clothes shops, jeweller’s and shoe shops, whenever a customer tries on an item, this must be either sanitised immediately or locked away —and not for sale— for ten days.

Despite the complaints from employers’ groups, trade union Comisiones Obreras insisted that safety measures must be fully enforced and the protocol of good practices published on Sunday by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce must be adhered to. In a press release, the union remarked that “it is essential to ensure that employees in the retail sector and their customers are kept safe”.

20 per cent of shops open across Spain

According to ATA, Spain’s Association of Self-employed Workers, on the whole fewer retailers opened in Spain: specifically, only 20 per cent of local shops, 50 per cent of hair salons and 3 per cent of bars and restaurants did. However, ATA believes the percentage will gradually rise to 40 per cent during the week in the case of retail businesses and 70 per cent for hair salons. “As usual, the problem is that the rules were announced late on Sunday”, complained Lorenzo Amor, the chairman of ATA.

“Many self-employed workers are currently adapting their business premises so they can open in the coming days. Others have told us they will wait until May 11 and many have said that, given that business has been very slow in the last few weeks, they are not going to purchase the sanitary material right away because the cost would far exceed their sales for this week”, he explained.