Sunday Shopping for Red Herrings (Part 2)

It anyone can provide data that substatinally disproves any of the points I am making, or conversely substantially proves the points I’m making please feel free to send it to me.   Also, let me make it clear, there are other factors besides businesses being open for longer shopping hours that help create some of the issues I’m addressing here.  However, I believe that extended shopping hours will exacerbate these problems.

In yesterday’s post about Sunday shopping I made the point that, from my perspective, the business community frames the question of longer Sunday hours as a battle between a religious minority trying to control peoples lives versus a business community wanting to provide people with more freedom and choice, is that such a distinction cuts off any discussion on whether or not more wide open business hours, be they on Sunday or otherwise, are in fact good for the well-being of individuals and communities.

In other words, more shopping on Sundays is for the greater good, and religious institutions, particularly Christian ones, since they are the ones to whom Sunday is a day set apart, are trying to deny the greater good on behalf of their exclusivist claims.  Granted, the arguments are often more subtle than that, but in the end that’s what they essentially boil down to.

So then, the greater good for society is that they less frequently attend places of worship on Sundays.  Now, as you can imagine, as a priest, I disagree with that statement.  However, for the sake of the argument that I want to make here, I will, for the time being at least, cede that point to the proponents of Sunday shopping.

There are however other questions that should be asked.  My primary purpose in the rest of this post is to raise some of those questions.  It is not my intent to answer all of these questions, but instead to make some observations. First and foremost who really benefits from increased Sunday shopping?  Does the independent retailer benefit from increased Sunday shopping?

For example, I worked at a neighbourhood grocery store for many years.  When I first started working we were open on Sundays (my boss allowed me to not work on that day),  the rules being that you could be open from 12-5, but with only four employees.  Given the limited hours and employees, Sunday was essentially the most profitable day of the week.  However, as soon as the four employee rule was dropped, Safeway, which had to that time not been open Sundays, started opening and our Sunday sales took a hit of about 40%.

You may say, well that’s fine, the market dictates who survives and who doesn’t, and since Safeway is bigger they get to survive and neighbourhood stores close.  That’s just the way life works.  However, when small businesses get squeezed out, people are left with fewer work choices, allowing larger operators to cut costs by increasing the number of part-time positions at the expense of full time positions.  Another one of those studies that might be useful is whether or not increased opening hours has led to relative wage gains for people who are working in the retail sector:  i.e. what kind of buying power to retail workers have today compared to 20 years ago, and how does that buying power compare to workers in other fields?

Another question to be asked would be whether or not more shopping is a good thing.  When it gets right down to it, stores can only be open longer if we shop more.  One study I’d like to see conducted is whether or not greater retail availability has led to greater profitability in the retail sector.  Has the increase in opening hours, throughout the week, given retailers a greater or lesser cushion when it comes to being able to operate successfully and profitably?

Related to this is the question of consumer debt.  Will continued growth in the hours of operation for businesses lead to an even greater increase in consumer debt?  When it gets right down to it, businesses will only benefit from wider Sunday shopping hours if people are spending more on purchasing goods and services.  The likely outcome is that the debt loads that people are taking on will increase rather than decrease.

Linked to this is the whole question of what affect greater retail hours has on  the use of natural resources and the sustainability of the planet.  Businesses staying open longer use more eletricity.  More trips to the shop use more gasoline.  More products being sold means that more waste by-products are being produced.  If the earth is already over burdened, how is more shopping going to help combat that problem?

Then there is the question of time itself.  Of all our resources it may be that time is the most finite.  Our economic model is built on the idea of continual growth.  While it appears there are many natural barriers to that, for example, we may run out of fresh water, it is also true that we constantly discover new innovations to deal with these challenges.  Can our innovation stay ahead of our survival curve?  I would say God alone knows, many others who say that nobody knows. 

Time, on the other hand, is one part of our lives that is not increasing(I suppose someone might show how days are getting longer by a second a century of some such thing, but that is so small an increase as to be insignificant).  When it comes to the growth of the economy, time is the ultimate limiter.  In many ways now, because of the global economy, the business world operates 24 hours a days, 365 days a year(366 this year). 

Our bodies, and I would argue, our minds and spirits, are not designed to operate on such a scale.  The more our shops are open, the more the businesses that supply the shops need to be open, the less time the people who are working for those suppliers have to rest.  It’s know surprise that stress related diseases and illnesses are showing up in increasing measure.

As I’ve said before, I’m not here trying to give a definitive answer on whether or not stores should open for longer hours on Sundays.  What I do wish to do, is to encourage people to stop and think of what possible detrimental aspects might come from doing that, so that even if you endorse Sunday shopping as more important than privileging a given religious tradition, you are making that endorsement while being aware of other potential drawbacks to longer shopping hours(and that may mean looking at reducing shopping hours on other days as well).

So, in conclusion here’s a brief list of questions to ask:

  • If I care for the state of the evironment, is more Sunday shopping a good thing?  
  • If I worry about the mounting debt that keeps our economy going, is more Sunday shopping a good thing?
  • If I find the pace of life so fast that I find it hard to recuperate and rejuvenate, is more Sunday shopping a good thing?
  • If I find the squeezing out of small businesses a bad thing, is more Sunday shopping a good thing?
  • If I think that the primary beneficiaries of greater opening hours is the 1%, is more Sunday shopping a good thing?
  • If I think that there is more to life than simply consuming more and more, is more Sunday shopping a good thing?

I am sure there are other questions to ask as well, and if you have ones you’d like to add please feel free to add them in the comments section.  Again, the question isn’t simply should stores open for more hours on Sunday, but rather does an increase in shopping hours actually leave us with a better life?                  



One thought on “Sunday Shopping for Red Herrings (Part 2)

  1. The whole argument that expanded Sunday shopping hours will impact attendance at church is completely false and in most cases laughable. If you believe that argument, then you must also believe the underlying assumption of that argument; namely that people are in the pews ONLY because stores aren’t open at 9am Sunday. I have a very hard time believing that.

    As for your questions, honestly most of them aren’t really relevant. Nobody forces you to shop on Sundays, so any personal effect is a matter of choice vs. societal imposition. As for your question on squeezing out of small businesses, the way the legislation is worded I am worried that that will be a side effect, given the restrictions and criteria for Sunday opening.

    There is also a finite amount people have to spend. Expanded Sunday shopping hours isn’t going to cause them to spend more, it’s going to adjust the time and spending pattern, so will it have an effect on consumer debt? Not likely. Increased consumerism? Doubtful. In fact I would suggest there is also an argument (although I’m not sure how strong) that could be made that by expanding Sunday shopping there is a positive environmental impact, since this will reduce traffic volumes and congestion on other days of the week ( less idling) and therefore less greenhouse gases.

    Am I going to be one of the first in line at 9am to do my grocery shopping? Of course not. But when I have to drive my daughter across town for dance lessons first thing in the morning on a Sunday, it would be nice to complete my errands on the way home, allowing me to spend MORE time with my family ( and less of an environmental impact) on a Sunday instead of making an extra trip out later in the day.


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