Amber Hoskins walked briskly up and down the aisles in a Shoppers Drug Mart on Portage Avenue, past items taped off with bright-yellow ribbons reading, "Caution."
The 36-year-old mother dropped in Tuesday to pick up some odds and ends before a forecast blizzard blanketed the city.
Since the Manitoba government applied its lockdown restrictions on Nov. 12, retailers have been able to sell only items deemed as essential to in-person shoppers. When public health orders were extended Dec. 12 — in place until at least Jan. 8 — the government lifted restrictions on certain items, including seasonal goods, such as holiday cards, gift wrap and poinsettias, along with everything inside thrift stores.
"I just realized walking through... that nail polish is (essential), but false nails aren’t," said Hoskins, motioning toward the cosmetics aisle.
"Hair dye was essential. Just some of the stuff that they’re opening up just feels odd. It’s not really essential. I think people can go a couple months without dyeing their hair, as I have obviously," she said with a smile behind her mask, pointing at her natural-hair-coloured roots.
In an email to the Free Press, a provincial government spokesperson said cosmetics were added to its list of essential items to iron out confusion and inconsistencies surrounding particular products.
"During the last review of the orders, it was observed that different retailers were interpreting cosmetics differently — some saw this as essential skin care, and others saw it as a non-essential product," the email said. "After consideration of the issue, cosmetics were integrated into the essential items list to ensure consistent application across the province."
Acting deputy chief public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal clarified the matter further Tuesday.
"Some retailers were providing (makeup) as an essential item simply because a lot of cosmetics have some medical ingredients in it," he told a COVID-19 media briefing. "We wanted to make sure it was a level playing field for everyone, and so we did add it to that list to make sure everyone was aware that it was part of that list."
Hoskins said she was puzzled by some things declared non-essential, including children’s clothing. She said her eight-year-old daughter's recent growth spurt has made ordering online a "crapshoot" as to whether the clothes will fit her.
"Everything is behind when it comes to deliveries," said Hoskins, who added she’d opt for shopping at thrift stores over ordering online. "I just feel it would be a little easier if more things had opened up a little bit. Like, I get why we have the restrictions — I do — but not everybody has the luxury of ordering online."
At the Empress Street Walmart Tuesday morning, Deepak Sharma and his two daughters — 10-year-old Shareya and eight-year-old Tanya — navigated the relatively empty aisles for the first time in a while.
Sharma said he agrees with most of the distinctions between essential and non-essential items but wishes some in the latter category were available for purchase, which would make life easier for families.
"Those (areas with children’s clothes) are not open," he said. "They should be."
Sharma said he doesn’t want to rely too heavily on online shopping because delivery dates have been unreliable.
"They (the retailers) say, ‘Oh sorry, we can’t make it because — Canada Post, Purolator or DHL — they can’t make it on time because they are backed up,’ said Sharma. "When they’re going to come? Nobody knows."
Sandra Shott also stopped by Walmart to browse for stocking stuffers. The 63-year-old grandmother said she’s ordered clothes for her grandson online but hasn’t received anything yet. Otherwise, Shott said she "can’t complain" about available items because she’s retired.
"I don’t need as much as, you know, people that are working," she said.
Children’s clothes were also at the top of other shoppers' list of should-be-essential items.
"Kids grow pretty fast, so if you had kids that fit something two months ago, they’re not going to fit (in) it anymore," said Val Kellberg, who was looking for children's clothing and stocking stuffers at the Salvation Army Thrift Store on Empress Street.
"Kids' stockings could be pretty skimpy this year unless you’re somebody with money," said Kellberg, who supports second-hand shopping.
The Manitoba government spokesperson said public-health orders are reviewed frequently, "in relation to concerns about which items are considered essential."