Update: April 1. – Quebec has updated its list of essential businesses to include bike shops. The change comes after strong public demand for bike shops to be added to the list.
On March 24 at 11:59 p.m., Quebec and Ontario shut down all non-essential services in a bid to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. Both provinces categorized grocery stores, liquor stores, pet food suppliers and motor-vehicle-repair shops, among others, as essential services. While Ontario included bike shops on its list of businesses that will stay open, in a controversial move, Quebec’s bike shops were not classified as an essential service.
Bike shops a ‘non-essential’ service in Quebec
Jean-Daniel Lafleur, Co-Owner of C & L Cycle, has already contacted the government to have the decision overturned.
“Looking out the window,” he says from the shop on Rachel street in Montreal, “there are more cyclists than cars on the road.”
With the help of the city, the business association in his area has already appropriated funds from a cancelled street festival to create a delivery program. Bike messengers drop off goods from local stores and restaurants to residents of the area for a flat rate. These messengers are dependent on bike shops if they have a mechanical problem, says Lafleur.
“The shutdown is an issue in itself,” he says, “but the business aspect is the least of my concerns. Right now, I don’t care about not being able to sell bikes—I just want to help take care of the local bike messengers.”
Lafleur points out that car mechanics are listed by the government as an essential service. “Bicycles are yet to be considered at the same level,” he says. “Not everybody has a car, and not everybody can afford a car. This isn’t about the guy who comes in to buy a fancy lock or a new bag, it’s about providing an essential service.”
C & L Cycle, a number of other bike shops, and Velo Quebec are petitioning the government daily. The group has been mobilizing others to protest the decision to classify bike shops as non-essential services.
“Customers are baffled,” says Lafleur, “it’s heartbreaking. We are not going to give up.”
Ontario marks bike shops as essential
When the worker-owners at Urbane Cyclist co-op heard about Ontario’s essential business mandate, the first thing they did was check in with the employees of the shop.
“We reached out to everyone to make sure they felt safe continuing to come in to work,” says Owen Ardal, one of the worker-owners of the Toronto co-op. “We wanted everyone to know that they had the option to say they didn’t feel comfortable interacting with customers.”
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Before the essential services announcement, the shop had already moved to a locked door policy to limit the amount of walk-in customers. “People like browsing and poking around at bikes,” says Ardal, “but we’re not here for fun. We’re here because the community needs the support.”
That community includes commuters, many of whom work in essential services and don’t drive or can’t afford cars. “We have plenty of nurses and doctors who come in,” says Ardal, “and a lot of messengers rely on the shop to get parts.”
Ardal thinks there is no question that bike shops should be on the essential services list. “If you’re allowing car repair shops to be open and construction sites to be open, bike shops should be open,” he says. “We’re not trying to pretend everything’s OK. People aren’t looking for leisure items right now, they’re looking for necessities. For a lot of our customers, bikes are necessities, and we are here to provide that repair service.”
Urbane is taking extra precautions and using disinfectant on all contact surfaces. The daily number of employees working has been reduced to minimize the number of people in the shop at once. Employees practice minimal contact and other safety precautions.
The shop is encouraging customers to visit their web store for parts, and to call or email if they have any questions. Urbane does have a dedicated parts desk that is still open, but, as with many other bike shops across the county, if you need to bring a bike in, it’s mainly appointment only so be sure to call ahead.