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Supermarkets liable for $5000 fine for trading after hours

The Samoa Police Service has decided medium to large stores may not convert into over-the-counter operations after 4pm, as dozens of stores try to extend their opening hours during the state of emergency.

Despite some confusion and mixed instructions, Police Commissioner Fuiavailiili Egon Keil has now set a $5000 tala fine on stores remaining open by fashioning a countertop in front of their doorways or through their windows.

Small over-the-counter stores are still permitted to remain outside of the curfew hours of 6am to 4pm.

Last week Fuiavailiili said stores converting into countertop operations would be left to do business, and that he would define ‘supermarkets’ as anywhere people could walk inside.

“I feel sorry for them too, they're trying to sell their merchandise as well,” he told the Samoa Observer.

“This is a very unique situation that we're in, and so what's the definition of a supermarket? And what is the legal definition of a supermarket?

“So to make it simple for [Police … a supermarket] is any store that you can actually walk into. So you can have as many people in there like those in the rural areas, it is a small store, but if you walk in, you can fit maybe 20 people in there.”

But Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi soon weighed in to correct him. 

“A supermarket is a supermarket,” he said, warning a fine would come to those who do “tricks” to stop being supermarkets at night time.

Fealofani Meatuli, who works at Shop Smart in Tulaele said the store manager opened up in the afternoons through their window at the beginning of the state of emergency period but Police soon asked them to stop.

Instead, they tend to large crowds between 3 and 4 in the afternoon as shoppers pack in to get their groceries on time. 

“I want to let our customers get what they need,” she said.

At 4pm people still knock hoping to get last minute shopping in. Ms. Meatuli said it has been tricky for neighbourhood regulars, who are used to having their local store open till as late as 11pm.

In Vailoa’s Tina’s Store, Manager Andrea Asuao said the state of emergency conditions have meant they are busier than ever. A retailer, rather than a supermarket, the store swiftly closed its big front doors and transitioned to being a window-only operation full time.

Ms. Asuao said between 5pm and midnight, the store is having significantly more customers than before.

The store has employed a security guard to work in front of the counter, who helps manage any growing crowds waiting at the counter. But the manager has not found any trouble there.

“People come and do their shopping one at a time, and wait in their cars,” she said.

Sometimes the guard has to explain to people to stay apart from each other while they wait for their turn at the window.

Ms. Asuao said she is relieved to be allowed to continue operating, especially as her store’s license is for a retailer, not a supermarket. 

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