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Vermont Tells Big-Box Stores to Stop Selling Non-Essentials—Will Other States Follow?

The Agency of Commerce and Community Development in Vermont has directed big-box retailers to “cease” in-person sales of non-essential goods.

The edict impacts retailers that sell apparel, such as Walmart Inc., Target Corp., Costco Wholesale Corp., and those that do not, such as The Home Depot Inc. and Lowe’s Cos. Inc. These big boxes could continue to sell items serving basic human needs such as food, beverage, animal feed and essential supplies.

Vermont ACCD previously provided guidance for retailers to help decrease the risk of while the coronavirus infections. The guidelines include limiting the number of customers to allow for social distancing in the store, and using creative ways to set up the store to ensure six feet of space between customers. The ACCD also suggested that retailers offer curbside delivery, or home delivery, if possible.

The new mandate to stop in-person sales of non-essential items is aimed at reducing the number of people headed to the stores.

“This volume of shopping traffic significantly increases the risk of further spread of this dangerous virus to Vermonters and the viability of Vermont’s health care system. We are directing these stores to put public healthy first and help us to reduce the number of shoppers by requiring on-line ordering, delivery and curbside pickup whenever possible, and by stopping the sale of non-essential items,” Lindsay Kurrie, ACCD secretary, said.

Items big-box retailers should stop selling include arts and crafts, beauty, apparel, consumer electronics, entertainment, paint, sports equipment, and toys, to name a few.

In addition, the ACCD is mandating that retailers such as Walmart, Target, and Costco restrict access to non-essential goods through closing aisles, portions of the store or removing the merchandise from the floor. It is also directing the retailers to offer non-essential items via online portals, telephone, delivery or curbside pickup, “to the extent possible.”

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Vermont’s mandate to cease in-person sales of non-essentials appears to be the first of its kind, and it couldn’t be determined if other state or local municipalities might follow suit.

Last month, Target said pandemic-induced shopping behavior kicked into full swing by mid-March, with sales up in essentials and food and beverage. Sales in home office and entertainment also trended up as expected with more Americans working from home.  Apparel and accessories sales, by contrast, saw comparable sales drop 20 percent.

However, that kind of stocking up might be shifting as Vermont seeks to further enhance social distancing, according a blog post from, a data analytics firm.

“There is a downside to stocking up for the long haul. Once you have all the things you need, there is little need for more visits…. Following several weeks of massive year-over-0ver visit increases, Costco, Target and Walmart all saw traffic declines for the first time since the crisis began,” Ethan Chernofsky,’s vice president of marketing, said on Wednesday.

So far Placer’s data indicates that as the situation improves, consumer behavior tends to return to more normal patterns. “Should this trend hold, it’s a very strong endorsement for those who believe that wider retail activity could quickly return to previous levels should the preventative measures being enacted serve their ultimate goal,” Chernofsky said.

In the meantime, some big boxes are taking the initiative to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

Costco on its website said it will “allow no more than two people” entering its warehouse stores with each membership card, beginning on Friday. The warehouse club said the change is temporary, and is for the safety of members and Costco employees, and to “further assist with our social distancing efforts.”

The organization also put in place new weekday hours to allow for restocking and sanitizing, as well as open its doors from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Tuesdays through Thursdays just for members who are age 60 and older, and for those with physical impairments.