BUSINESS
03/22/2020 21:08 EDT | Updated 03/24/2020 17:12 EDT

EB Games/GameStop Claims It's An ‘Essential Service’ During Coronavirus Pandemic

Customers formed long lineups for two new video game releases.

Popular video game retailer EB Games came under fire this week for keeping stores open despite Canadian officials asking all “non-essential” businesses to close to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

EB Games was still open Friday as people gathered in long lines to get their hands on two popular new video games releases — “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” and “Doom Eternal.”

U.S.-based GameStop owns EB Games in Canada. An alleged memo to staff, posted on Reddit, claimed the video game retailer should be considered  “essential retail” due to their products “that enable and enhance our customers’ experience in working from home.”

HuffPost Canada could not verify the document’s legitimacy, but five employees reportedly showed their copies of the memo to Vice.

If local authorities try to force a location to close, the memo also directs staff to tell law enforcement to call corporate headquarters.

EB Games defended its decision to stay open for the video game releases, and posted a lengthy statement on social media, saying it was “working diligently” to keep stores safe for employees and customers.

“We are taking action to institute multiple social distancing practices in our stores, such as only allowing a maximum of 10 customers in our stores at any given time,” the company’s statement read.

“We have been aggressively sourcing additional safety products and sanitary supplies to implement heightened cleaning practices on all high-touchpoint surfaces within our stores, as well as more accessible hand sanitization stations.”

People who claimed to work for EB Games used social media to dispute the company’s comment about sanitation supplies.

An employee, who asked for anonymity, also told the Toronto Star that they were told by management to purchase the disinfecting products and would be reimbursed later. GameStop employees in the U.S. were told to do the same, according to Vice.

GameStop/EB Games has over 6,100 stores in Canada, the U.S. and 17 other countries.

Some clients on social media said they tried to switch their physical pre-orders of the game to digital downloads over the phone to avoid visiting the stores — but the company’s policy requires customers make the switch in person.

In Canada, the company closed its stores on Saturday after the deluge of criticism.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he was “disappointed” with EB Games for keeping their stores open.

“They have a responsibility, everyone in this province has a responsibility to make sure we protect each other. I am very disappointed that the store owner will do this,” he said.

“This is not an act of good corporate citizenship,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said at a press conference on Friday.

“They placed commerce above the public interest. I don’t necessarily blame the people who lined up. If the store hadn’t have been opened, they wouldn’t have lined up.”

The Ontario Provincial Police and Toronto police both announced that they would begin to fine people and corporations that violated the province’s emergency measures.

Fines can be up to $100,000 and one year imprisonment for individuals; up to $500,000 and one year imprisonment for a director or officer of a corporation; and up to $10 million for a corporation, according to Now Toronto.

HuffPost Canada