Open on Sunday? 84% of major Utah stores do business on the Sabbath

Published: Sunday, Jan. 23 2005 12:05 a.m. MST

Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News

Fifty years ago, almost every major shop and store in Utah was closed on Sundays, according to an old, yellowing study by the Utah Council of Retailers.

Times have changed radically. But they have changed less in Utah County than in other parts of the state.

About half of the major stores in Utah County now open on Sundays, a significant increase from 50 years ago. But elsewhere in the state, nine of every 10 stores now open on Sundays — a monumental increase.

Those findings emerge from Deseret Morning News research of 2,476 retail stores statewide, including nearly all grocery and convenience stores in the state plus larger retailers, chain stores and businesses in the state's major shopping malls.

It suggests that to a majority of Utahns, the Ten Commandments may have shrunken to just the Nine Commandments — with many discounting Jehovah's biblical command to Moses to, "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy," or at least interpreting it to mean that Sunday shopping is OK.

In fact, a new Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll by Dan Jones & Associates found that two of every three Utahns report shopping on a Sunday sometime during the past year, with more than a third of Utahns saying they shop frequently or very often on Sundays. (Also, two of every five main breadwinners report they had to work on Sundays sometimes.)

Only 6 percent of Utahns surveyed say they will never shop on Sundays, while 87 percent said they will shop under varying circumstances. And nearly a third of all Utahns say they would shop on Sunday as they would on any other day of the week — and do not do it just to meet pressing needs.

It was not always that way.

All were closed

A study written in 1962 by the Utah Council of Retailers, designed to help legislators examine a then-proposed Sunday closing law, describes what business on Sundays was like in Utah during different eras.

It noted that during pioneer days, the territorial Legislature did not bother to pass Sunday closing laws "since practically all businesses were closed on Sunday anyway."

But two years after statehood, in 1898, the Legislature passed a law forcing most businesses to close on Sunday — or face a now-quaint fine of at least $5 and up to $100. (That law exempted several types of businesses, including hotels, restaurants, gas stations, livery stables, drug stores, theaters and bathing resorts.)

That law remained on the books until 1943, when it was successfully challenged by a Carbon County fruit market. The Utah Supreme Court ruled the law was too arbitrary because it allowed some businesses (such as resorts or gas stations) to sell the same types of commodities (such as fruit) that forced-to-close markets could not sell that day.

After that, Salt Lake City adopted its own, separate Sunday closing law in 1946. But the Utah Supreme Court struck it down in 1948, also for being too arbitrary.

Even with no law banning Sunday openings, the 1962 retailers' report still said, "Only scattered facilities were open prior to 1959."

For example, a 1953 Deseret News story reported that 150 out of 910 "small grocers" (16 percent) in the state were open on Sundays that year when then-Gov. J. Bracken Lee vetoed a mandatory Sunday closing bill. Virtually all larger supermarkets were still closed on Sundays then.

Change begins

The old retailers' report says that Sunday openings began to skyrocket after 1959, when then-Gov. George D. Clyde, like Gov. Lee before him, also vetoed a mandatory Sunday closing law, calling it an unwise intrusion on personal liberty.

"This seemed to be a green light to retailers to go ahead with Sunday selling," the 1962 report said. It added about the situation in late 1962, "Today over half of Utah's grocery stores are open on Sunday; all of the drug-department (super drug) stores; practically all corner drug stores; about 80 percent of the gasoline service stations; the large discount stores, and numerous other stores in various retail groups."

Many legislators in the '60s found such growth in Sunday openings alarming, and news reports said proposed Sunday closing laws were debated repeatedly for years.

The Legislature passed a Sunday closing bill in 1967, but then-Gov. Calvin L. Rampton vetoed it. It passed another in 1970, which Rampton allowed to become law without his signature. But 3rd District Judge Leonard W. Elton ruled it unconstitutional in an oral announcement. He died the next day without having signed his orders.

The Utah Supreme Court later upheld Elton's ruling that the Sunday closing law was unconstitutional. No other statewide Sunday closing bill has ever again become law in Utah, even though a 1961 U.S. Supreme Court decision allows "secular" mandatory day-of-rest closing laws.

Currently, the only institutions now mandated by state law to close on Sundays are state liquor stores, courts and depository institutions.

Situation now

If legislators in the '60s thought too many businesses were open on Sundays — when half of grocery stores did business — they had not seen anything yet.

The Deseret Morning News found that 84 percent of the 2,476 major stores it contacted statewide are now open on Sundays.

The News found that 100 percent of major drug stores it contacted are open Sundays; 97 percent of convenience stores; 91 percent of larger food supermarkets; 82 percent of major retailers; 82 percent of stores in malls; and 53 percent of small grocers.

(The Deseret Morning News researched Sunday opening data for all grocery and convenience chains and stores listed in the online Utah Food Industry Directory; all stores listed in directories of major shopping malls; retailers listed in state Yellow Pages; and other well-known, major retailing chains.)

Little difference was found between rural and urban areas. About 86 percent of rural stores contacted were open Sundays, and 84 percent of urban stores were.

But going against statewide trends is Utah County, part of the urban Wasatch Front. About half of the stores contacted there — 47 percent — are closed on Sunday.

That is four to six times more than in other urban counties. For example, only 11 percent of major stores contacted in Davis County are closed Sundays; only 9 percent in Salt Lake County; and just 8 percent in Weber County.

Also in the new poll, 54 percent of Utah County residents say they never shopped on Sunday during the past year — far higher than the state average of 37 percent.

Why the difference?

Officials in Utah County, population 400,000, make some obvious guesses about why more stores are closed there on Sundays: Fewer residents seek to shop on Sunday because of strong religious convictions; and, as home of the LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University, it may also attract some of that church's more committed members.

"I had a variety of businessmen tell me through the years that they don't do well on Sundays in this market, so they close," Provo Mayor Lewis Billings said.

Utah County Commission Chairman Jerry Grover, in turn, says he believes fewer people shop there on Sundays "probably because they are religious, and Sunday is just not their shopping day. . . . I wouldn't guess it is anything beyond that."

Grover said a former Utah Valley State College president, who himself liked to shop on Sundays, actually liked living where large numbers do not. "He loved it because he could golf on Sunday without waiting in lines, and go shopping without lines." (However, most municipal recreation facilities in the county are also closed Sundays.)

Rob Kallas, general manager of the University Mall in Orem where all stores but one are closed on Sundays, said some of the larger national stores there have sometimes studied or experimented opening Sundays but usually end up closing for lack of business. An exception is Mervyn's, which he said remains open on Sundays there because of a national policy to have all its stores open on Sunday.

Even while the newer Provo Towne Centre mall across town is open on Sundays, Kallas said he expects most of University Mall to remain closed on Sundays for the foreseeable future. "We find that many of our (smaller) tenants have chosen us and not other malls because we are closed on Sunday, and that is important to them."

LDS difference?

One way that Utah County is different, which may contribute to why more stores close there on Sunday, is that its population has the highest percentage of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints among the state's counties.

About 88 percent of Utah County residents are LDS, according to Brigham Young University geography professor Sam Otterstrom, who adds there may be some correlation between that percentage and the high numbers of Sunday closings.

Other counties with high percentages of LDS members do have higher-than-average numbers of Sunday closings but not as high as Utah County.

For example, in Morgan County, where the LDS population percentage is nearly identical to Utah County, 25 percent of its stores contacted close on Sunday. That's about 67 percent higher than the state average but still far lower than Utah County.

On the other end of the spectrum, Grand County, where Otterstrom said only 25 percent of the population is LDS, the lowest in the state, 87 percent of its stores contacted open on Sundays — just a bit above the state average.

In Summit County, where 36 percent of the population is LDS, the second lowest, 95 percent of stores contacted are open Sundays. But it is also a ski resort area.

The new poll shows that LDS members surveyed in Utah are more reluctant to shop on Sundays than others.

The new poll showed that 48 percent of LDS members surveyed said they had shopped on a Sunday during the past year. In comparison, 100 percent of Catholics surveyed said they had shopped on Sunday, as did 97 percent of Protestants surveyed and 100 percent of those who belonged to other churches or no church at all.

Activity levels in the church also make a difference. Among LDS members who described themselves as "very active," 64 percent said they had never shopped on Sunday; only 12 percent of those "somewhat active" had never shopped on Sunday ; and only 5 percent who said they are "not active" had never shopped on Sundays.

Why open?

Stores that open on Sundays say it is for the convenience of modern customers who now do more weekend shopping, especially in a time when both spouses often work all week. Some also say competition virtually requires Sunday openings.

For example, Brenda Romero, spokeswoman for JC Penney stores, said, "We decided to keep our store open on Sundays because many of our customers can only do their shopping on Sundays."

She adds, "Since our customers are our No. 1 priority, and also one of our priorities is to provide convenience to our customers, we decided it was just the best thing for us to do. It is something we do nationwide unless there is some kind of mall regulation that keeps us from opening on Sunday."

When Dan's Foods chose to open its stores on Sundays in 1992, chairman Dan S. Gardiner Jr. said then that the chain had long remained closed "because of my deeply held conviction that Sunday has been set aside as a day for rest and worship."

However, he said, "It became clear there is a wide difference between my perception of Sundays and that of a majority of our customers."

Dan's said surveys it conducted in 1992 indicated nearly two-thirds of its Utah customers sometimes shop for groceries on Sunday — as did 56 percent of Dan's customers. So when it was closed on Sundays, Dan's customers went elsewhere.

"In this extremely competitive market, this puts Dan's at a significant disadvantage," Dan's Vice President Dan Parris said at the time. "It is also an inconvenience to those local Dan's shoppers who, for whatever reason, choose to shop on Sundays."

Those who close

While the large majority of retailers in Utah are open Sundays, several still choose to close.

Some major retailers that close all their Utah stores are: Allen's Super Save Markets, Chick-fil-A, Christensen's Department Stores, Deseret Book, Dressed in White, Franklin Covey, Furniture Warehouse, John Paras Furniture, Macey's (food stores), Mr. Mac, R.C. Willey furniture, Seagull Books and Winegar's Supermarkets.

Also, University Mall in Orem and Salt Lake City's ZCMI Center are closed on Sundays.

The ZCMI Center and Deseret Book are owned by the LDS Church, which urges members not to shop on Sundays. Businesses such as Dressed in White and Seagull Books also almost exclusively target active LDS members.

However, Salt Lake City's Crossroads Plaza, which the LDS Church recently purchased, is open on Sundays. (Taubman Centers — one of the nation's largest retail developers — announced this week that it is also buying into those downtown malls.)

LDS Church spokesman Dale Bills said Crossroads is currently open on Sundays because of "contractual obligations from leases signed under previous Crossroads ownership. ZCMI Center, constructed and continuously owned by church-affiliated businesses, has always been closed on Sundays."

Bills added, "The future of Sunday closing policy for Crossroads Plaza stores is yet to be determined."

Why some close

Reasons those stores close vary from religious to saying that offering Sundays off helps them attract higher-quality employees. Most say it does not really hurt their businesses.

Mac Christensen, founder of Mr. Mac clothing, who is also president of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, explained why his family's stores close on Sundays.

"We are Mormons. We believe in being closed on Sunday. It gives our people a chance to be home with their families, take care of church responsibilities and have a day of rest."

He adds, "It hasn't hurt our business."

It also has not hurt the Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A, which has reported 36 consecutive years of sales growth and now has 1,150 restaurants in 37 states. Its founder, S. Truett Cathy, a devout Baptist, requires all its restaurants to be closed on Sunday.

He has been quoted saying, "Our decision to close on Sunday was our way of honoring God and directing our attention to things more important than our business. If it took seven days to make a living with a restaurant, then we needed to be in some other line of work."

Sunday closings also have not hurt the fast-growing, locally based Franklin Covey time management stores, which are closed nationally. Spokeswoman Debra Lund said one of the seven habits of highly successful people espoused by founder Stephen Covey is to take time off "to sharpen the saw," which is important for employees.

"It is important to take time off for renewal and renovation," she said. "Most employees like to try to take off on the weekend. Saturday is too high a traffic day to give up," so the chain closes on Sundays, she said.

Scott Hymas, chief executive officer of R.C. Willey furniture, said, "Retail hours are tough. But if our associates know they will at least have Sundays off to spend with their families, it allows us to attract a higher quality associate. . . . When they get a day off, they come back refreshed, and we get a better work force."

Dave Davis, human resources director of Macey's food markets, said his chain remains closed Sundays, even though Sundays are considered the second-biggest day for grocery shopping.

"It could put us at a competitive disadvantage, but it is important enough to our team members, our communities and our guests that we maintain that closure policy," he said.

What churches say

Some churches leave it up to individuals to decide whether shopping on Sunday breaks the Sabbath, while others more directly discourage or condemn it.

"Beyond keeping the Sabbath holy and attending Mass either Saturday evening or sometime on Sunday (which usually lasts about an hour), the Catholic Church has no specific instruction about participating in specific activities on Sunday," said Monica Howa-Johnson, director of communications for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.

She adds, "People are encouraged to avoid working if possible and devote the day to God and family, but the church realizes that is not always possible."

The Rev. Daniel Webster, director of communications for the Episcopalian Diocese of Utah, says, "Episcopalians, as part of our ethos, leave it to people to decide, but to discern through scripture and teaching and through their own discernment what is keeping holy the Lord's Day."

However, he adds he has taught from the pulpit that "we have to be very careful on how we live our lives on what is traditionally the Christian Sabbath on Sunday. If we contribute to more stores being open, we put more people to work on what should be the Sabbath day," he said. "The whole point of the Sabbath was to give animals and servants who work for you a day off."

LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley said in a talk, "There is no need for people to shop and desecrate the Sabbath day by buying things on Sunday. That is not the time to buy groceries. You have six days of the week, and you all have a refrigerator."

He added, "You do not have to shop on Sunday. Do not buy furniture on Sunday; buy it the other days of the week. You will not lose anything if you do your shopping the other days and do not do it on Sunday. Let this be a day of meditation, of reading the scriptures, of talking with your families, and of dwelling on the things of God. If you do so, you will be blessed."

Varying views among churches on Sunday shopping seem to be reflected in the new poll.

It showed that 76 percent of Catholics surveyed would shop on Sunday as if it were "any other day of the week," as did 61 percent of Protestants, 73 percent of those who belong to other churches and 91 percent of those who said they belonged to no church.

Meanwhile, only 13 percent of LDS members surveyed said they would shop that way. Meanwhile, 59 percent of them said they would shop on Sundays only for pressing needs such as medicine; 11 percent would shop for items needed that day, such as food; 2 percent would shop after attending to religious duties; and 8 percent said they would never shop on Sundays.


E-mail: lee@desnews.com

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