A letter-writing campaign is hoping 1,000 business owners will send letters to the Premier and Health Minister, advocating for in-person business.

Campaign-lead Tom Penner says he is seeing many businesses struggling to stay afloat with many now facing devastating situations, and is asking the province to allow them to operate in-person.

"What we are trying to do is to rally one thousand Manitoba small business owners and their employees to send letters to the premier and the health minister Cameron Friesen, and to respectfully request that we open businesses and are treated with the same rules that all businesses are."

He is asking people to write and mail physical letters as part of his MB Unite initiative to the pair. Minster Friesen is also the MLA for Morden-Winkler, where Penner lives. 

Winkler has a large small business community and was named as the best place in Manitoba for entrepreneurs by the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses in 2019.

Penner says not all Manitoban businesses are elligable for the grant programs offered by the province and with the current restrictions, their income is limited-to-none.

"I think most people want to help small businesses, but it is difficult when they are closed."

He says the online shopping experience at small businesses cannot compare to the multi-million dollar campaigns coming out of "big-box" stores.

"Online retail is driving people away from local business," he says. "It is unreasonable and unfair to say that curbside delivery and store pick up and these types of things won't affect businesses."

The group wants to be able to open under the same restrictions as the "big-box" stores. 

"We are seeing many measures being taken, including masks, hand sanitizing stations, cleaning crews that do a good job of cleaning."

Penner wants small businesses to be able to open following the same regulations as stores that are currently open such as limited capacity. 

"Small business owners who are closed can follow the same procedures and take the same safety procedures as the big box stores," he says "We want people to know that we want to open our businesses but we believe everyone should be treated with the same rules."

Currently, only what the province deems as essential, such as food or gift cards, can be purchased in-store. The rest can only be purchased online or by phone.

Canada Post is anticipating a large upswing in packages being mailed due to the lack of in-person shopping, but Penner says small businesses are not feeling a spike in sales. Penner says sale volumes at most small stores are down considerably.

"I was speaking with a small business owner here in Winkler the other day, and their sales have been dramatically decreased with their closure even though they can still do online sales and curbside pickup."

The group says "every income is essential" and by closing businesses to in-person shopping, employees are losing their jobs and owners of their businesses.

pallister"If you were active in the community you went to 17 stores, you went shopping for Christmas, by gosh you know what happens?" asks Pallister.

Penner says the businesses can open safely and responsibly. Premier Brian Pallister disagrees.

"I believe them when they say they can open responsibly. I do not believe them when they say they can open safely," Pallister says.

He says that by opening, people will be encouraged to travel and move around various places in the province, potentially spreading COVID-19.

"As we move around we take COVID with us, whether we know it or not," he says. "Five days later, when the symptoms come up if you were active in the community, you went to 17 stores, you went shopping for Christmas, by gosh you know what happens? The contact list is really, really long and you gave COVID to a whole bunch of people."

Pallister says he comes from a small business background and loves small businesses.

"Small businesses who support these measures are smart to do it because the sooner we get behind these measures, the sooner we can get the small businesses back to doing what they do best."