WINDSOR, ONT. -- As Windsor-Essex prepares for a new lockdown, a new petition is circulating in response urging the province to adjust the restrictions to be less onerous on small businesses.

On Friday, the Downtown Windsor Business Improvement Association (DWBIA) launched the petition on to call for a more equal treatment between small businesses and big box stores.

"We’re hoping for a level playing field," said Brian Yeomans, the chairperson of the DWBIA. "If the small businesses aren’t allowed to have people into their stores to buy their non-essential items, we don’t think it’s fair that the big box stores are able to keep their doors open and sell the same things."

The petition aims to get the attention of Premier Doug Ford and has been signed more than 1,800 times since launching on Friday.

Yeomans says small businesses feel picked on and unjustly targeted.

"It definitely feels like that," said Yeomans. "They’ve got smaller capacities so they’re limiting the number of people coming through. You’re looking at 200, 300, 400 people going through a big box store — how is that safer?"

Kim Spirou, owner of the Salon Brush on Ottawa Street, is among those who feel small businesses are taking the brunt of public health restrictions.

"We’ve done everything we can to keep everyone safe and we have," said Spirou. "It’s just heartbreaking to know that come Monday morning we can’t open our doors and yet I can go to Wal-Mart and Home Hardware and Home Depot and shop with these crazy crowds."

The salon falls under the personal services category of Ontario’s COVID-19 public health protocol and will be forced to close as Windsor-Essex moves into the 'Grey-Lockdown' stage of the measures — the most restrictive included in the guide.

Many other services will also be forced to close their doors to in-person and indoor service including bars and restaurants, theatres and casinos, as well as libraries and museums.

The lockdown measures provide several exemptions for retail stores as many, including supermarkets, grocery stores and hardware stores, are allowed to remain open to in-person shopping while complying to 50 percent capacity limits, physical distancing and mask-wearing measures.

"These small businesses have done all the steps that need to be taken to ensure that they’re safe and people are kept safe," said Yeomans. "Yet big box stores are going to be able to continue to sell non-essential items when these small businesses are being forced to do curbside pick-up or take out only."

For stores like Dr. Disc Records in downtown Windsor, the lockdown will mean instead of allowing 10 or fewer shoppers at a time to browse the collection of vinyl and CDs — no one will be allowed inside and curbside pick-up will have to pick up the slack.

"We are, to be honest with you, a little stressed out because it is a time of year around Christmas where people would be doing a lot of their shopping," said store manager Aimee Charette in an interview with CTV News. "We’re just adapting as best we can."

The Progressive Conservative government moved to lockdown the region following a spike in COVID-19 cases and strained hospital resources.

As of Dec. 10, the moving 7-day average hit 79.3 cases of the novel coronavirus as reported by the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) while on Sunday, Windsor Regional Hospital (WRH) reported on its Twitter account the hospital was up to a hospital-record 31 COVID-19 inpatients.


The petition

The DWBIA petition includes four pillars which call on the province to adjust public health restrictions to reflect capacity, terminology and application:

1. Ensuring any closure orders due to COVID-19 maximize the ability of small businesses to continue to operate.

2. Utilizing tools such as restrictions on numbers of customers based on physical space, mask use and social distancing (rather than arbitrary definitions of ‘essential goods or services’ or arbitrary numbers of customers) to determine how businesses can continue to operate.

3. Limiting the definitions of ‘essential goods or services’ as narrowly as possible to ensure that small businesses may continue to operate.

4. Applying any definition of ‘essential goods or services’ to all businesses, including big box retail, and forbidding big box or other department store models from selling any goods or services which cannot be sold by small retail or specialty stores.