Large retailers modify stores and block off non-essential products
Majority of Tesco stores were visited by gardaí at weekend
A spokeswoman for Tesco said it was adhering to Government guidelines and had closed its F&F clothing, home entertainment and toys units across the country. File photograph: Nick Ansell/PA Wire
Large retailers across the State have modified stores and blocked off products deemed unessential in the wake of widespread Garda interventions over the bank holiday weekend aimed at ensuring they were in compliance with lockdown rules.
A cross-industry conference call with Damian English, the junior minister with responsibility for the retail sector, has been arranged for Wednesday morning amid confusion about how level 5 restrictions on retail are being enforced.
Under those rules shops which can open between now and the beginning of December include supermarkets, pharmacies, health and hardware stores, shops selling PPE, fuel providers, shops selling things deemed essential for the welfare of animals and shops selling products necessary for the “essential upkeep and functioning of places of residence and businesses”.
All retail outlets which can operate a click and collect system, home delivery or phone ordering can also continue to trade although people will not be able to visit the shops to browse the aisles.
Frustration has been mounting in recent days that retailers including clothes and shoe shops had started stocking and selling PPE so they could stay open while chains including Dunnes Stores and Tesco were continuing to sell clothes alongside food and other essential supplies.
Retail Ireland Director Arnold Dillon told The Irish Times that the designation of “some shops as essential and others as not has created confusion, especially where stores stock a wide range of different products side by side.”
He said it was “important that we get a consistent approach to enforcement across the county, although grey areas will inevitably arise. Ultimately, the solution is to get all of retail back open as soon as possible, while safeguarding the safety of customers and staff at the same time.”
There have also been calls for “a common sense approach” to be adopted as a matter of an urgency.
“We have heard reports of confusion as gardaí have checked retailers for compliance with the new restrictions,” said Duncan Graham of Retail Excellence.
He said pharmacies had been told in some instances that selling fragrances was a breach of the Level 5 restrictions. “What we need is to adopt a common sense approach and avoid going to extremes,” he said.
He pointed towards Wales where retailers selling a mix of stock were being asked by the authorities to block off portions of aisles using plastic screens and he cautioned against importing such a “heavy handed” approach in this jurisdiction.
He stressed that shops should be allowed to resume trading as soon as possible to maximize their chances of survival into the new year.
At the weekend the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Leo Varadkar said selling non-essential items alongside essential goods was “not lawful” and he called on retailers to “abide by the regulations and ... to abide by the spirit of the regulations.”
He said mixed retailers would have to separate their stock “and only sell the items that are essential” and cited the example of a supermarket which has groceries and clothes saying the latter section should be cordoned off.
On Saturday and Sunday gardaí stepped up the policing of retail spaces although a spokesman declined to say how many shops had been visited or what if any action had been taken against those found to be in breach of the rules.
The Irish Times understands that the majority of Tesco stores were visited by gardaí.
A spokeswoman said it was “adhering to Government guidelines and have closed our F&F clothing, home entertainment and toys units across the country. We will continue to offer a very limited range of essential clothing items only for customers for example, school wear and some baby clothing.”
Dunnes Stores outlets had also blocked access to its clothes and homewares in many stores by the end of the weekend although it did not respond to queries put to it by The Irish Times.
A spokeswoman for Boots said as an essential service it was able to continue to trade. “We are prioritising the sale of essential items in our stores, however if a customer wishes to purchase additional products from another area of the store, they are able to do so.”
One of the reasons why there is so much more confusion and concern about how retail is operating during the current restrictions is as a result of a substantial broadening of the list of retail allowed to trade during the latest Level 5 lockdown.
“It is more than just a grey area, it is a rabbit hole,” one industry source said. “Do you close a newsagent for selling tights or hair clips, do you stop that newsagent selling books in the corner of the shop? How do you define a shop that sells products deemed essential for the “upkeep and functioning of places of residence? And what happens in the middle aisles of Aldi and Lidl?”