Businesses absent from the list of commercial activities permitted during the new lockdown in France have denounced the “unfair competition” that could put their trade in peril. After several meetings, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced new measures on Sunday evening to correct the imbalance.
In the name of commercial equity, the French prime minister Jean Castex, announced on Sunday on TF1 television that all products sold by small businesses, such as books, would no longer be available in larger stores, such as supermarkets as of Tuesday.
The decision came after meetings with business owners and their representatives.
The government decree for the new Covid-19 lockdown measures that took effect on 30 October, stated that in addition to food stores -- opticians, pharmacies, supermarkets, sellers of construction materials, hardware, animal feed, office automation, tobacco and vaping as well as vehicle repairs, laundries and financial and insurance activities can remain open.
But those services forced to keep their shutters closed such as booksellers, florists, hairdressers and toy shops immediately voiced their concerns that they were being unfairly treated.
Franck Mathias, spokesperson for the toy store chain JouéClub, said toys are an "essential need" for families in the lead up to Christmas holidays, especially since the festive season will be dampened by Covid restrictions.
Owners of hairdressing salons, beauty institutes and florists too presented the same argument. “Well-being and plants are essential to life.”
On Thursday, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo put forward an initiative aimed at helping small businesses, such as independent bookstores, saying that "culture is an essential part of life. It would be a mistake to sacrifice it."
She defended the need to maintain these outlets as a way of fighting the effects of loneliness and isolation, noted during the difficult conditions of the first lockdown.
And though these shops can do business via ‘click & collect’ in which customers can order items on the internet and collect them from the stores, online sales still represent a small part of the sales of these specialized stores.
According to Mathias, the government “has redistributed competitive positions.” He pointed out that in the case of toys, supermarkets were allowed to remain open and sell them. "They have already set up strong promotional campaigns to attract as many new consumers as possible.”
Supermarket chains seen as 'unfair competition'
Several mayors of small and medium sized towns such as Perpignan, Brive, Beaune, Valence, Chalon-sur-Saône and Colmar have taken the unilateral decision to allow non food shops, such as bookstores to open, supported by the association of French Mayors (AMF), a move that was criticised by the government.
Michel Vieira, owner of the household appliances discount chain MDA says that the situation is inacceptable. “We were able to resist the first wave but we can no longer accept the breach of equality with supermarkets that sell our products.”
Laurent Milchior of Etam told the news channel BFM Business that the fact that customers will be able to buy their gifts in other stores is “unfair competition.”
The group La Maison de la Literie (bedding and manchester) announced on Friday that it was “initiating an interim relief before the administrative court of Paris", denouncing an “unjustified and disproportionate infringement of freedom of trade.”
Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, speaking on BFM on Sunday said he understood the anger of French business owners and reiterated that the government has announced a 15 billion euro package to support companies and workers during the lockdown.
But he insisted that the health of the population had to remain a priority.
The number of patients with Covid-19 in intensive care rose to 3 443 on Saturday, with 339 new admissions since Friday, according to the latest figures from public health authorities, Santé publique France.
The rate of people testing positive to the virus has slightly increased to 20,2%, compared to 20% on Friday.