Retail association: Let us open!

By number of customer contacts, only a tiny portion of retail is actually closed in Berlin. Reason enough to open stores again, says Nils Busch-Petersen.

Why can hair salons open but not us, a store in Friedrichshain wants to know.
Why can hair salons open but not us, a store in Friedrichshain wants to know.dpa

Berlin-Passion, a sense of proportion and understanding. 

The head of the Berlin-Brandenburg retail association, Nils Busch-Petersen, likes to quote sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) when asked what he expects from today's meeting between Germany's federal and state governments about the fate of the country's current restrictions.

"Clearly we have to continue fighting the current pandemic together," Busch-Petersen says. "But we can't continue to use methods that cause more collateral damage than the disease itself."

He is unsurprisingly in favour of re-opening the city's retail stores before it's too late for many teetering on bankruptcy. The lobbyist says he wants a rethink of how the disease is tackled, hoping for more creative solutions and a move away from fear and closures.

Armed with stats

Indeed, he says there's no reason to keep retail as well as bars and restaurants closed and there was never even a reason to shutter them in mid-December in the first place. Busch-Petersen uses another quote to back his position, this time from German health minister Jens Spahn (CDU) on 2 September: "With the knowledge of today, we would not have closed the stores in the first lockdown."

The problem, he hints, is not the stores or the restaurants but rather things happening in other areas of public life. The closures are needlessly restricting the wrong people. And he has figures to back up his assertion.

"We normally have 2.25 million customer contacts per day in normal operations in Berlin. Of these, four-fifths are trade with everyday goods, which is open anyway. Non-food retail accounts for 451,000 contacts daily," he says, getting emotional. "It wouldn't be a huge run on stores, it would just be the final fifth coming back online."

A scientific study from the Berufsgenossenschaft für den Einzelhandel workman's comp insurer last year showed that despite millions of customer interactions, retailers had a 25 per cent lower incidence of infection than the general population.

Can corona patients shop?

"These things show that retail is a safe haven where you can dock and should no longer be closed," he says.

The Berlin government also has the figures and Busch-Petersen's trade association hopes politicians will finally take them to heart. He says the government's proposed Click & Meet concept for retailers could benefit small boutiques.

Click & Meet is part of a draft law being considered today and is denglisch for a process where limited shopping spots can be reserved by consumers online, allowing retail to resume. Rhineland-Pfalz is already partially using the strategy and Baden-Wuerttemberg, Saxony, Bremen and Saxony-Anhalt could follow suit next week.

While he embraces the concept, he says it's "silly" as a cornerstone of the government's corona strategy.

Infobox image
Nils Busch-Petersen
is the director of the retail association of Berlin-Brandenburg (Handelsverbands Berlin-Brandenburg).

"What is KaDeWe supposed to do with Click & Meet?" he says. "We can't have 40,000 to 60,000 KaDeWe customers waiting a quarter of an hour at Wittenbergplatz for their test results."

Last year's hygiene concepts proved effective, he says, and should be part of an expanded testing strategy.

"If a highly contagious Covid-19 patient wants to buy a suit in a store, but abides by all the rules imposed by retailers, such as wearing an FFP2 mask, the distance requirement of only one person per 10 square meters, and hand disinfection, he's not going to put anyone at risk," he says. 

Still he understands why some would prefer to carefully re-open. 

"I understand everyone who is afraid of this insidious and dangerous disease," he says. "We have to confront the pandemic, but we also have to learn to live with it."