Hudson’s Bay Co. has landed in the crosshairs of public backlash against government lockdowns that have forced many small businesses to close, according to a public relations expert.

The department store retailer is under fire after keeping its Toronto flagship location on Queen Street fully open on Monday, despite provincial orders for non-essential retailers to close their stores in the city and in nearby Peel Region.

Hudson’s Bay argued the flagship could remain open since it sells essential items like food and appliances, and has a Pusateri’s grocery store in the basement. It later announced it had decided to close the store starting Tuesday.

Bob Pickard, principal of Signal Leadership Communication, says HBC’s move likely sparked backlash given many Canadians’ frustration over the latest round of lockdowns.

“Public sentiment right now, I’ve never seen it so brittle,” Pickard said. 

“If a government policy – like we’ve just seen with the Toronto lockdown – seems to favour large-scale foreign corporations and not local homegrown small business, the public regards that as completely unfair and they get upset about it. Unfortunately, Hudson’s Bay got caught in the crossfire when that occurred here in Toronto.”

Pickard added that HBC’s response by “old-fashioned press releases” likely fell flat with consumers, as the pandemic has altered corporate public relations.

“[HBC was] trying to catch up with public sentiment and trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube,” Pickard said.

“I think it’s too late for them to restore public goodwill on this. It looks like they were trying to pull a fast one.”

With files from The Canadian Press