KENTVILLE, N.S. -- When Mike Huntley opened the doors to his dive shop Tuesday morning, he knew exactly what he was doing and fully expected what came next.

Although he admits, he didn't expect officers with the Kentville Police Service to arrive first thing in the morning.

But that's what they did, with the purpose of ticketing him for opening his doors to sell what the ticket describes as "non-essential" items during the province's pandemic lockdown.

The fine totals $11,622.50.

"I'm open to prove a point," he says, "and that is, none of us are being treated fairly; we need to be treated fairly."

As the owner of several businesses in the town, Huntley says he got tired of watching customers flock to large "big box" retailers, which can have in-store customers because they sell essential items like groceries.

But many of those stores have other items on their shelves as well.

Huntley brought in cleaning supplies to sell in his shop. But he says police told him that didn't matter.

He says businesses forced to close their doors are struggling to pay the bills, and curbside and online sales don't make up for the revenue loss.

Huntley also says the province's recent $17.2 million dollar boost to its Small Business Impact Grant – which entitles eligible businesses to an extra $5,000 – isn't enough.

"We don't want their money per se," he adds, "we want to be able to operate in a limited capacity and make our own money."

That same frustration is shared by other entrepreneurs in the community.

Dave Reid, who owns and operates DM Reid Jewellers, says he and his staff developed a number of safety protocols during the last lockdown, which they could implement again if only the province would allow it.

"I give Mike kudos for doing what he's doing, that takes a lot of guts," says Reid.

While Reid has no plans to take on a ticket, he would like to be able to open under the same safety protocols he used before, including limiting customers in-store, sanitizing and enforcing mandatory mask wearing.

He's not convinced those same measures are always being followed by large retailers.

"It's a free for all," he says, "they're really not doing their job, and if they had to do what we're doing, they'd be pretty quick to react like we have, and that's the unfair part."

Reid says small businesses are an important part of rural communities like Kentville, and their survival is crucial to the local economy.

Many residents agree.

"We have to keep them open," says Eileen Foster, "because if not, they're going to close up for good."
"A lot of them already have," she adds.

"Big business rules the world," says Carl Wood. "I don't think it's fair, quite frankly, but that's the reality."

Nova Scotia's minister in charge of business and economic growth, Labi Kousoulis, was not available for an interview with CTV News on Wednesday.

But in a statement, the department responded, "We recognize and understand that the pandemic has challenged everyone and we will continue to listen and work with the hospitality and business community ..."

"The primary focus today is to limit the movement of people … and recommend businesses utilize curb side delivery. We are also asking people if it is not an essential item, do not purchase it."

Huntley hopes decreasing case numbers will offer hope to small businesses soon.

"I want to see small business allowed to do business, and stand behind small business, instead of standing on them," he says.

He says he plans to fight his ticket, and keep his "open" sign on in the meantime.