Store Owners Don’t Know If They’re Allowed to Be Open Under ‘Essential Services’ Rule

Cities from San Francisco to New York are ordering stores and businesses to close if they do not provide essential services.  Some classifications are easy. If you’re a brew pub, you’re not essential, even though your clients might think so. If you’re the electric company or a grocery store, then by all means, stay open.

But there’s a lot of gray area in between, and store owners aren’t getting much guidance.

Is a computer store essential? You certainly think so if you’re trying to work from home and need a new gadget or cord to make that happen. What about bookstores, or hotels?

President Donald Trump on Sunday said he had spoken to the CEOs of large retailers like Walmart Inc and Kroger Co and that they were “working hand-in-hand” with the federal government, as well as the state and local leaders, to ensure food and essentials are constantly available.”

Beyond that, he did not spell out what federal officials see as essential, leaving retailers fretting about a lack of coordination among federal and local government officials.

Brian Dodge, President of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said:

“Certainly on an interim basis and on a long-term basis, that definition is quite different from person to person.”

The organization, together with the National Retail Federation, sent a letter to the National Governors Association and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, urging them to provide clarity around “essential” and “non-essential” businesses.

Pennsylvania’s Governor Tom Wolf on Sunday classified hotels as essential, while Nevada’s Governor Steve Sisolak on Tuesday ordered hotels to shut to the public for 30 days.

Marriott, the largest hotel company, confirmed Tuesday it was beginning to furlough what it anticipates will be tens of thousands of employees, and Hilton’s chief executive said occupancy was down to 15% and hotels in some cities were shutting down.

To make room for essential products like medical and household goods, Inc said all of its warehouses in the U.S. and Europe will stop accepting other items.  However, the company considers books as essentials.

The conversation took on a different tone in Alameda, California, where Tesla builds cars.  The auto company claimed it was an “essential” part of the U.S. economy because it provides transportation, even though the company sells just a tiny fraction of all vehicles sold in the U.S. When someone asked the Alameda Sheriff if he was going to shut down the plant, he referred questions to Tesla.

Apparently favoritism exists in everything.

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