Governor's Covid Press Conference

Some retailers upset with guv for Black Friday comment

Reprinted with permission from yesterday’s edition of The Eagle, a Sun Community News newspaper covering Addison and Rutland counties

by Lou Varricchio

RUTLAND | Gov. Phil Scott is in hot water with some retailers around the state this week.

On Nov. 24, Scott asked Vermonters not to shop on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday retailing season) if they didn’t have a need to. The normally pro-business Scott may be hoping to stop the new surge of COVID cases, but his comments seem to have rattled small business owners.

While Scott did not recommend that retailers need to close-up shop on Black Friday, his recent coronavirus protocols, plus the message not to shop unless vital, dusted small retailers with the fallout.

According to Erin Sigrist, president of Vermont Retail & Grocers Association, this has been a year unlike any other, leaving many businesses struggling to balance on the edge of solvency. By shopping locally, the sales tax you pay stays within your communities, she said, and you help fund public education, maintenance of parks and street improvements, and other vital services. These businesses also hire local workers, whether its employees to provide you customer service, a contractor to make improvements on their building, an accountant, attorneys, or just buying lunch at the restaurant next door.

Kara Alnasrawi, Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace director, told WCAX-TV’s Ike Bendavid on Nov. 24, “these business owners have been pivoting and they have been pivoting rapidly since some of the guidance coming from Montpelier has changed and they are really offering ways to get their goods or their product or their food out to everyone in the safest manner possible.”

Retailers on the Church Street Marketplace, even those who have been supporting the state’s COVID protocols so far, are surprised by Scott’s comment.

“I’m disappointed by it. I think he is reacting to trouble policing within larger big-box stores,” Mark Bouchette of Homeport told WCAX. “A lot of local businesses are in critical positions right now and are counting on the season to be able to survive.”

In Rutland, where retailing has been ailing for the past decade, one downtown retailer (preferring to remain anonymous), told The Eagle, “With masks and social distancing, the vast majority of our customers have been very mindful. But this is not the time to tell Vermonters not to shop if you don’t have to. This pushes them, even more, to leave us and buy on Amazon. We are hanging on the ledge by our fingertips.”

Vermont Retail & Grocers Association’s Sigrist cut to the chase on Nov. 25.

“Consumers spend one-third of their holiday budgets during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and coming off an almost non-existent tourism season, local businesses need our support to keep operating and supporting our communities. As the data has shown, the transmission is not happening in retail. These retailers are your friends and neighbors, and they’ve worked hard to make their stores safe and accessible,” she said.

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