Re: Essential Nature of Furniture
Dear [Representative Name]:
In a very short period, the coronavirus pandemic has darkened much of the United States’ economy. Some industries have been particularly hard hit. For example, brick-and-mortar retailers of products deemed “non-essential” have been forced to close by various state-issued executive orders over the past few weeks.
These orders are understandable – with the spread of the virus accelerating, states needed to take quick action to force social distancing while allowing critical elements of the economy to function. But there have been unintended consequences.
Because of the distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” products, the hardships inflicted on businesses have not been equal. For example, in the furniture industry, big-box retailers like Walmart and Target have been allowed to sell furniture throughout the pandemic because they also sell other products such as medications, food, and hardware.
Similarly, e-commerce retailers, like Wayfair and Amazon, are continuing to sell and deliver furniture because they have deemed themselves part of the essential e-commerce infrastructure. Yet, brick-and-mortar furniture stores that provide service and value to our communities have been forced to close.
This approach – which unintentionally allows some businesses to sell furniture, but not others – is threatening the viability of thousands of local furniture stores that employ hundreds of thousands of Americans.
At the very same time, this crisis is causing families to quarantine together, forcing people to work from home, while children study at home and college students finish semesters from home. Families are finding that they need furniture that will allow them to live and work comfortably and productively in their new home-bound realities. For example, some may find that they need specialized furniture, such as “lift chairs” that assist the elderly or infirm.
As a result, we believe that household furniture should be considered an essential product, and furniture retailers should be permitted to operate consistent with CDC guidelines. The goal of the closure orders was not to close businesses and stifle the economy. The goal was to slow the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the infection curve. Furniture retail stores can operate in such a way that employees and guests are less exposed to social contact than employees and guests in grocery stores, pharmacies, auto repair shops and other retail businesses that have been deemed “essential.” Therefore, the risk to allowing furniture retailers to be considered “essential businesses” to reopen and sell much-needed products is minimal.
Furniture stores can be operated in a way that fully complies with all CDC health, safety, and social distancing protocols to limit the spread of COVID-19. Stores also can limit the number of individuals allowed to shop at any given time based on the square footage of the store.
Several states have already recognized this balanced and pragmatic approach. One of those states is Virginia. Executive Order No. 53 issued by Governor Northam of Virginia provides that any brick and mortar retail business not deemed “essential” can “continue to operate but must limit all in-person shopping to no more than 10 patrons per establishment. If any such business cannot adhere to the 10 patron limit with proper social distancing requirements, it must close.”
Throughout our country, the furniture industry employs hundreds of thousands of Americans, providing products that are in high demand during this crisis, and pumping millions of dollars into employee paychecks, taxes, and investments into our communities.
For the benefit of customers, employees, and our economy, we request that furniture retailers either (i) be recognized as an essential product in the context of applicable executive order, or (ii) be allowed to reopen due to the importance of their products and the clear ability to maintain the proper health, safety, and social distancing protocols discussed above.
On behalf of the retail furniture industry, we thank you for your consideration, and your time and attention during these challenging times.