Currents Sand Dollars

Whose “Essential” Is It? Different Rules For Box Stores & Local Stores

Women's Clothing for sale at Target
Written by Brian Tarcy

CAPE COD – April Cabral, owner of Sundance Clothing of Chatham and Sandwich, said she plans to open her Sandwich store on Friday and put 80 percent of her merchandise in a tent on a patio near the curb.

“I’m not allowed to open. I’m opening. I’m not breaking the rules since the terminology is such a loosely defined phrase. I am just as essential as Walmart. And if you say we are allowed curbside, well curbside is loosely defined too,” she said.

“There is no definition of what is curbside,” said Cabral. “There is no definition of what is essential.”

Cabral said she began thinking about this after recently venturing out for the first time in weeks when she went to the Falmouth Walmart and saw the store was selling women’s clothing, which she sells. While Walmart is open, Sundance Clothing can only sell online and, soon, by curbside service only.


Cape Cod Covidispatch

“It got me mad,” she said of seeing the merchandise she sells on sale in the open Walmart. “Instead of being sad like I was the first few months, the last few days I have been angry. And a little bit of frustration is good because it makes you take more action instead of lying in bed crying or feeling sorry for yourself.”

The actions she is taking is to open this Friday, she said.

Walmart was full of people, Cabral said of her Walmart visit. “I can’t understand how that is safe but my little clothing store, which I can personally monitor, is not safe.”

Cabral said she realized that the definition of “essential” does not really exist.

“Clothing is essential,” said Cabral of her merchandise. “If you don’t think so, go out without your pants on and see what happens.”

April Cabral, owner of Sundance Clothing

April Cabral, owner of Sundance Clothing: “Clothing is essential. If you don’t think so, go out without your pants on and see what happens.” PHOTO COURTESY OF APRIL CABRAL

“It doesn’t make sense that the big box stores can operate almost as usual when the small retailer has to operate almost completely online or not operate at all. A lot of small businesses don’t have thriving websites,” she said.

And while her website is actually doing well, it doesn’t match her usual foot traffic and there is no way for a small business to get every item of inventory online as a large business can, she said.

“I cannot fathom that big box stores are thriving and almost every small business that I know is teetering on the edge of extinction after only two months,” said Cabral. “That cannot be allowed to happen.”

Allowing big corporate box stores to sell all their inventory while small local retailers selling some of the same types of products are not allowed to open is “completely not fair,” said Amanda Converse, co-founder and CEO of Love Live Local.

Love Live Local is a Cape Cod organization dedicated to community advocacy and educating consumers on the importance of shopping local. It also has a retail store selling products made by local Cape artisans.

Love Live Local, through its festivals and community advocacy, has relationships with “hundreds of Cape Cod businesses,” said Converse. “Countless retailers are increasingly frustrated,” that the rules favor big box stores, she said.

Amanda Converse, co-founder & CEO of Love Live Local

Amanda Converse, co-founder & CEO of Love Live Local: “Countless retailers are increasingly frustrated.”

“Why weren’t [box stores] told to block off their aisles that sell non-essential items?” asked Converse. “They shouldn’t be able to sell home goods while the store around the corner can’t sell the same items.”

“At this point, retailers are getting incredibly worried,” said Converse.

Soho Arts Co. of Hyannis, which has been closed except for online retail and will soon be allowed like all small retailers to provide curbside service only, sells gifts, jewelry, artistic kitchenware and more.

Betsy Young, owner of Soho Arts Co.

Betsy Young, owner of Soho Arts Co.: “I’ve often thought of bringing in paper towels or hand sanitizer and calling ourselves essential.”

But a while ago when Betsy Young, owner of Soho Arts Co., was talking about the items she sells, “somebody mentioned to me you could go into Target and buy those.”

Walmart and Target remain fully open and both sell many of the same type of items that cannot be sold at currently closed small businesses. In both box stores, which are deemed “essential,” all aisles are open.

"Essentials" in the open Target

“Essentials” in Target

“I’ve often thought of bringing in paper towels or hand sanitizer and calling ourselves essential,” said Betsy Young, owner of Soho Arts Co. “But I don’t want to be seen as flaunting the rules, she said. She added that she wanted to be “a team player.”

Converse said that she reached “peak frustration” when the new plan to reopen was announced. “Retailers were hoping for something more,” she said.

“I was hoping things would be a little more fair,” said Young.

One thing Converse said that she was hoping for as a start was to be allowed by-appointment-only visits. “We’re not talking about opening the doors and flooding our stores,” she said.

"Essentials" in Walmart

“Essentials” in Walmart

Meanwhile, Cabral, who is opening her Sandwich location on Friday, said she is not doing the same with her bigger Chatham location because she does not have as much outdoor space.

“To be clear, I am not flinging open my doors and saying, ‘Everybody come in and skip the masks.’ Nothing like that… we will open with restrictions, the same restrictions and safety precautions everyone else is using,” she said.

Young said, “I’m hoping for the best and trying not to have expectations. I am usually at the store all day but I had to leave [Monday, when the reopening plan was announced allowing only curbside service] because I was so upset by this news.”

No boundaries on women's clothing sales in Walmart

No boundaries on women’s clothing sales in Walmart

“We need to crack the door open a little bit and let some things start to happen,” said Young. “We have to do something or there won’t be anything left of this street [Main Street, Hyannis].”

Meanwhile, Cabral said she has adopted a new philosophy: “If it is safe enough for Walmart, it is safe enough for Sundance.”

In fact, she said, her small store is safer. “I can police my store. We are a small business.”

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You Can't Sell Right Field

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About the author

Brian Tarcy

Brian Tarcy is co-founder of Cape Cod Wave. He is a longtime journalist who has written for the Boston Globe, Boston magazine, the Cape Cod Times and several other publications. He is the author of "YOU CAN'T SELL RIGHT FIELD; A Cape Cod Novel." He is also the author or co-author of more than a dozen mostly non-fiction books, including books with celebrity athletes Cam Neely, Tom Glavine and Joe Theisman. His previous book was, "ALMOST: 12 Electric Months Chasing A Silicon Valley Dream" with Hap Klopp,who created the iconic brand, The North Face.
For more information, see
Brian is a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan with a long-running NFL predictions/political satire column connecting weekly world events to the fate of his favorite team, now at


  • Wendy Norcross of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce was on the team from Cape Cod to come up with the rules to open up the state
    It would be interesting to see what her role was and if she agrees with the restrictions placed on the small retailers on Cape Cod

  • Betsy Young is on the HHDC, a local board that governs what’s “appropriate” on Main Street. She has always operated as if the rules only applies to others and not to her. Junky gift store items are not “essential”, and dumping them on the sidewalk obstructing the path of people trying to get some exercise only served to alienate locals. Two thumbs up to the local business people who respected the rules imposed for our safety, and did the work to promote online business. We should all remember how the selfish people (like Young) acted during this difficult time.

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