Indie toy retailers voice frustration at lockdown closure rules

Published on: 10th November 2020

Bira members are said to be ‘furious’ that some large retailers continue to trade in non-essential goods, including toys and games. 

The government has been urged to tighten up the rules on the sales of non-essential goods, as it became clear at the weekend that larger chains, including those dealing in homewares and other non-food categories, were circumventing the latest guidelines in England.

Andrew Goodacre, the chief executive of Bira, a trade association representing 3,000 independent retailers, told The Guardian that his members were furious that large homewares and other non-food businesses were continuing to trade while small businesses were sticking to the rules. He said: “The government needs to make it very clear to these large companies that they cannot open or can only sell what they deem essential. Independent, non-essential retailers have accepted the [lockdown] ruling but what they can’t accept is that it doesn’t apply to competitors… It seems completely unfair that those retailers can bend the rules at this important trading time.” Andrew has also tweeted that non-essential concessions in a large shop should be closed. Under current rules, food retailers including supermarkets, newsagents and garden centres are allowed to remain open, alongside a variety of other businesses.

Toy retailers are among those that have voiced their dismay about the current guidelines. Indie board game specialist Games Crusade, which only opened its second store a fortnight ago, took to Twitter with a picture of its fully-stocked shelves and those of Morrisons, asking followers to spot the difference. One user replied: “Not fair. Not right. Our two children love to visit your shop when we are in town and we will be back when you reopen.” Another commented: “Yours look nicer… The rules are not logical in any way and likely to cause a surge when everything reopens.”

Lisa Dyson, the owner of Games Crusade told Toy World that her main concern during the second lockdown was the lack of a level playing field; during the first lockdown, at least everyone was in largely the same boat, she says. “On this occasion there are far more shops open, and lots sell the same items we do. On our high street in Harrogate, Ryman is selling board games and jigsaws including Harrogate Monopoly. All the discount shops are open too, all selling non-essential goods. Whilst I don’t have a problem with essential shops staying open, I don’t believe it’s right that they’re selling non-essential goods – especially while we can’t. I also feel that smaller shops are safer. We’ve put precautions in place and don’t have the same volume of shoppers as supermarkets and larger chains.”

Lisa is far from the only retailer to feel aggrieved, as local competiton can have a huge effect on small businesses. Small Stuff, an independent children’s lifestyle store & community space, posted on Twitter: “It’s outrageous that supermarkets, post offices and other large “essential” shops (just to name a few I’ve seen over the last few days) are continuing to sell toys, books, games, clothing – but we’ve been told we have to close our doors. So hugely unfair.”

David Middleton, who owns Midco Toys, has also made his feelings clear, writing on Facebook: “How come all the independent shops are closed, yet B&M Bargains is not only open, but rammed with zero social distancing?? People filling trolleys full of wrapping paper, Xmas decorations and toys!!!! Something has got to be done about this!!” In another post, accompanied by a picture of Tesco’s toy section, he wrote: “All the independent toy shops closed… Tesco open 24 hours still… selling all the essentials!!”

Dave told Toy World that the extent of competitors that are still fully open means it is harder for indies like Midco to retain its loyal customers, when it can only offer click & collect or delivery. “Unlike the first lockdown, they’re only coming to us as a last resort,” he observed, ” – when they can’t find what they’re after elsewhere.”

Other toy retailers have voiced concerns about the impact closures will have on them at this time of year. Paul Wohl, owner of Essex’s Argosy Toys, told Essex Live that the second lockdown has left his business facing uncertainty this Christmas. However, he believes his ‘local and loyal’ customers will continue to support the shop as they have over the last few months. “People are definitely looking to support more people and business more than ever,” he said. “By shopping here you are shopping to help local people, help local people’s wages and keep the local economy going.”

For Lisa at Games Crusade, the solution lies in putting an end to the sale of non-essential goods. “If someone comes to the checkout with paracetamol and a box of toy building blocks, the argument is that the blocks aren’t essential and that particular sale should be refused,” she says.

Behind the scenes, the British Toy and Hobby Association (BTHA) continues to lobby the UK Government in an effort to have toys classed as essential, thereby allowing specialist toy retailers to remain open. Natasha Crookes, director of Public Affairs and Communications, took time out from a full day of government calls to tell Toy World: “The BTHA represents toy suppliers and from early in the first lockdown we engaged with government to try to have toys added to a list of essential items. BTHA chairman, Andrew Laughton, wrote to the Prime Minister on two occasions. We have followed up that correspondence periodically throughout the year in writing and during virtual meetings with Ministers at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Most recently we have written to the First Ministers of the devolved nations asking that each country allows toy retail to remain open as essential retail. Toys have played a vital role this year and have been essential for morale, family entertainment, helping with home schooling and keeping children active. The BTHA will continue to support members and their retail partners. We continue to call for an extension to the list of essential stores to include toy retail at this crucial time of the year, for both the industry, and the families that need our toys for essential child development and simply joy this Christmas”.

Yesterday (9th November) saw non-essential retailers open back up across Wales, which had been in a 17-day Firebreak lockdown since 23rd October. Ireland remains in a strict Level-5 lockdown until 2nd December – the same day England’s restrictions are set to be lifted.



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