by Jacob Mattie, SFU Student
To promote staying home and social distancing, many businesses are now open for a fraction of the time they were pre-pandemic. From restaurants and retail to SFU Burnaby’s very own Renaissance Coffee, hours of operation have been shortened. While this may seem like an apt adjustment — especially in light of decreased foot traffic — this solution is flawed. To promote COVID-19-friendly practices, businesses should keep their doors open later.
Being open for shorter amounts of time can certainly reduce the chance of transmitting disease. However, it condenses customers into a smaller time frame which increases in-store traffic density, working against social distancing measures. If customers visit a store over a shorter time period, this is, in essence, equivalent to more people in closer proximity to one another. Even with in-store distancing guidelines and maximum capacities, the dangers of having more people in one area remains. It is safer to space people out over time, rather than distance.
In addition to helping with social distancing, staying open later helps business owners compete with omnipresent online retailers such as Amazon or Walmart. Online sales have increased significantly over lockdown, and smaller businesses have struggled to adapt to this new commercial landscape. The learning curve and costs associated with setting up and maintaining a website are, in themselves, a challenge. Even the most tech-savvy businesses struggle to compete with the advertising, cheap shipping, and warehouse capacities of other large online retailers.
Additionally, paying just one full-time staff member at BC’s minimum wage is in excess of $2,200 monthly — comparable to Vancouver’s retail rent prices. It may seem to businesses that cutting back on hours of operation is a good way to float through the pandemic. For some places like restaurants and cafes with low-margins and no genuine capacity to operate later, this may be true. But as lockdown measures will inevitably continue for a while longer, businesses need something that will not only sustain them until they can return to full capacity, but will keep them relevant. By staying open later, businesses that are able to make these changes can make the most of the rent that they’re already paying for, and adapt to the different schedules that asynchronous classes and working from home have allowed.
Lockdown has opened up an assortment of viable time schedules for people. Sleep at 6 p.m. and wake up at 2 a.m.? This is the new normal for some. We can exchange a.m. and p.m. tags freely and remain entirely plausible. By limiting their hours, many businesses lock out potential late-night shoppers, which could funnel sales directly to their online competitors.
Rather than defaulting to shorter business hours, businesses would find that the world has not stopped. Even under the most stringent lockdown measures, people still need to go out on occasion — whether for groceries or last-minute purchases that cannot wait for shipping. By staying open later, businesses could adapt to their customers’ changing schedules, and while it may not return things to ‘normal,’ it might build something pretty close.