France grapples with lockdown backlash from small shops


  • Economy
  • Monday, 02 Nov 2020

"We are taking these measures to protect the French people," Prime Minister Jean Castex (pic) said.

PARIS: The French government promised on Sunday to support the nation's beloved independent shops that fear losing their business to international giants, such as Amazon.com Inc, as it sought to quell opposition to a new coronavirus lockdown.

But officials also ruled out making exceptions for booksellers or other small stores upset about the lockdown, hitting back at sporadic resistance to the restrictions on non-essential shops as some tried to remain open.

"We are taking these measures to protect the French people," Prime Minister Jean Castex said in an interview with TV channel TF1.

Instead, the government will now stop supermarkets from selling non-essential goods like flowers to level the playing field for florists, toy shops and independent booksellers that have to close, Castex said.

In common with other European nations suffering from an upsurge in the novel coronavirus, France has entered a second strict lockdown, which includes closing non-essential stores for at least 15 days.

Hospitalisations for COVID-19 infections have been creeping up and the number of new confirmed coronavirus cases rose by 46,290 in France in the past 24 hours, data on Sunday showed.

The battle between large and small retailers showed the challenge of enforcing the lockdown a second time, particularly in the run-up to the Christmas period where many normally do more business.

Mayors in about 50 cities and towns brought in local edicts over the weekend allowing shops to remain open, with even Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo saying she would to do the same for book stores.

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Sunday such actions were irresponsible and posed a health risk, but promised some 100 million euros ($116.47 million) to help small businesses build up online operations.

"It shouldn't be that Amazon, let us say, emerges as the big winner of this crisis at the expense of local shops," Le Maire told BFM TV.

Amazon said on Saturday it was withdrawing advertising for pre-Black Friday discounts in France after the government said it was inappropriate when other retailers were suffering.

Some small businesses, including many booksellers in France, are experimenting with new ways to stay open.

One high-profile victim of COVID-19 is the famous English-language Parisian bookshop Shakespeare and Co, which has pleaded with customers to place online orders and collect books from its door.

French writers, literary figures and publisher have launched online petitions asking the government to allow bookstores to remain open.

The organisers of the prestigious Prix Goncourt literary award said last week they would not announce a winner for this year, as planned on Nov. 10, if bookstores were ordered to shut.

($1 = 0.8586 euros)

- Reuters
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