When Mark and Susan Anderson were required by a statewide mandate to close the doors of their Dothan clothing and outdoor gear store, Eagle Eye Outfitters, they felt like it was a necessary sacrifice for the good of public health. By limiting retail shopping to essential items such as groceries, prescriptions, and fuel, the Governor’s order takes a great many people off the streets.

Hopefully, it slows the spread of the rampant COVID-19 virus. But the closure is incredibly painful for owners like them: it has forced them to furlough more than 150 employees, and the massive loss of revenue will leave a mark on their business for years.

What the Andersons don’t understand was how it is fair for one of their local competitors, the national chain Academy Sports and Outdoors, to continue selling the same types of apparel and outdoor gear.

In this case, the loophole for Academy is their small firearms counter. Guns and ammunition are considered essential under the current order. Therefore, Academy and others who carry firearms have been allowed to continue to do business–even if guns and ammunition are only a small percentage of their overall sales.

One of the unintended consequences of the mandate is that small businesses, which often specialize in a more narrow range of merchandise, are penalized more heavily than their national chain competitors.

You heard that right: businesses owned and operated by Alabamians are absorbing the crushing cost of total closure, while national chains based out of state continue to snatch up what little retail demand still exists in the downturn.

If all businesses operating in Alabama were restricted from selling non-essential goods, small businesses might at least expect to benefit from the pent-up economic demand that will exist once the mandate is lifted. As it is, demand for those goods and services is funneled immediately to the big chains, cutting small business owners out of the deal entirely.

Bob Couch of Couch’s Jewelers feels that his small business is paying a higher price than others, as well. While he is forced to shutter his 75-year-old family jewelry store in downtown Anniston, Wal-Mart is allowed to continue selling jewelry just a short distance away. Because they carry groceries and have a pharmacy, they are allowed to sell anything.

None of the small business owners I spoke with this week felt the retail sales restrictions were unnecessary, given the scope and seriousness of the pandemic. But they think the state government has picked winners and losers with a poorly-conceived order.

They are right. And the Governor can correct it today if she chooses.

Vermont heard a similar outcry from its small business community. In response, it amended its closure order so that businesses that remain open to offer essentials are limited to just those sales. In a large department store that offers a variety of goods, selling non-essentials is temporarily prohibited. No more going to Wal-Mart for groceries, but then wandering the aisles looking for a pair of gold earrings or a sleeping bag.

These are trying times for businesses of every size. But there’s no good reason for our own state government to damage Alabama’s small business owners further.

None of us likes the loss of civil liberties, or the freedom to do business as we choose—not even for a day. But if our current public health concerns are so extraordinary as to require such restrictions, the least government can do is ensure that they be equally and fairly applied. Every business operating in this state–big box or main street–should bear its share of the burden.


MORE ON Economic Freedom

Keep a Weather Eye on the Horizon – A Legal Storm is Brewing

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the displeasure of being at sea when a major storm develops. It is disconcerting, to say the least. As the deck pitches and rolls, the mental review of the all-hands disaster planning takes place in the mind. Pulling into a safe harbor and putting feet on dry land […]

Alabama Needs to Limit Uncertainty for Healthcare Providers in the Pandemic

Uncertainty can be crippling. In many, it turns an energetic “can-do” spirit into a cautious “wait and see” mentality. In 2011, more than half of small businesses surveyed by the US Chamber of Commerce said they were holding off on hiring new employees largely because of uncertainty about the economy. That was in 2011. What […]

The RESTORE Alabama Agenda

Read the full RESTORE Plan here. The 2020 Regular Session of the Alabama State Legislature is behind us. Did anyone notice? It was a Session marked more by what didn’t happen than by what did. One minute the lobbyists were being paid well to try and get marijuana legalized, state budgets were flush, and gambling […]

MORE ON Good Governance

Hey, ABC Board…Know Your Role!

Let’s start with clearing the air…generally speaking I don’t hang out in bars. This is not a puff piece to defend pub crawls. So before any of my folks, fans or friends think that I’m writing this because I was hoping for one last round after 11 p.m., the answer is “no”. What I do […]

Phil Williams Discusses “Masks in Class” Mandate on Evening News

Phil Williams, Director of Policy Strategy for the Alabama Policy Institute, recently discussed Governor Ivey’s “Masks in Class” mandate on  WSFA Montgomery’s evening news program. To watch, click here. To keep up with API, sign-up for our newsletter at alabamapolicy.com/subscribe  

Keep a Weather Eye on the Horizon – A Legal Storm is Brewing

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the displeasure of being at sea when a major storm develops. It is disconcerting, to say the least. As the deck pitches and rolls, the mental review of the all-hands disaster planning takes place in the mind. Pulling into a safe harbor and putting feet on dry land […]

MORE FROM Dana Hall McCain

Rural Broadband: It’s Past Time

As it turns out, we just thought we understood how much we needed better broadband accessibility in Alabama. Rural farmers, hospitals, and schools have been telling us for years that the inequality of our broadband infrastructure created two classes of Alabamians: internet haves and have-nots. State leaders mostly agreed and promised to address it…eventually. But in a […]

Cameras (AKA the Government) On Every Corner – A Crisco Sorta Slope

I remember the collective groan that went up from motorists when “red light cameras” became a thing. Suddenly, it didn’t matter if the police were around to see you push your luck with a changing traffic light. Big Brother always would. The heightened accountability at busy intersections felt a bit creepy and oppressive, but most […]

Balancing Rights and Love of Neighbor

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey has announced that our state is moving into an initial phase of economic recovery, known as “Safer at Home.” It relaxes restrictions on many businesses while keeping others, like restaurants, heavily limited for now. The hope is that all businesses will be allowed to resume a modified type of operation shortly. […]