National Edition

Why retailers open or close their doors on Sunday

Published: Thursday, Nov. 21 2013 4:00 a.m. MST

Sundays in England were difficult for New Yorker Kim Laudati to get much done.

While vacationing in England, she couldn’t find any store, restaurant or business open. Anyone she asked — whether she was in London or Manchester — said people were expected to be home with their families.

“I never forgot that,” said Laudati, who opened a skin-care business in New York City in 2009. For six months she worked Monday through Saturday. But after increasing requests came in for her to accept clients on Sunday, she made the switch.

She's clearly not alone in working on the Sabbath to accommodate customers. On Nov. 11, online retailing giant Amazon announced a deal with the United States Postal Service to deliver on Sundays, beginning in the Los Angeles and New York City metro areas, which will include areas of New Jersey and Connecticut, according to Amazon representative Kelly Cheeseman, who declined to discuss the specifics of the deal.

But despite compelling arguments about meeting customer demand and keeping up with the competition, there are retailers that take a different approach and choose to stay closed on Sunday.

"We wanted our employees to have a day off to spend with their families and not to have to worry about work," said Vincent Parker, explaining why the national craft story chain Hobby Lobby decided to lock its doors on Sunday. "It was a business decision. We chose the one day that is most widely recognized as a day of rest and we feel that we get better employees because of it."

Exceptions to the rule

Staying open on the Sabbath to please customers or stay competitive is largely an American business strategy, according to Jim Adams, economics professor at the University of Michigan.

“You find more Sunday closings in Europe than you do in the United States," he said.

In Europe, small businesses and towns don't want stores to be open on Sundays to level the competitive playing field with the bigger chain stores, Adams explained. It lessens the amount of days the bigger stores can be open, which puts them on equal footing with the small stores, he said. It also allows the smaller businesses to have a day off and not use as many resources to stay open.

“Everything is closed up more tightly there than it is here," Adams said. "But it varies one country to the next and one retail shop to the next."

Pockets of the United States, like Bergen County, N.J., follow a similar philosophy. Blue laws, as they're commonly known in the United States, require nonessential stores to be closed on Sundays to conform with local moral and cultural standards. According to N.J.com, counties were given the option to enact or repeal blue laws in 1959.

Bergen County is one of the few counties in the United States enforcing strict blue laws within its limits, said Jeanne Baratta, spokeswoman for Bergen County. All retail stores, except those offering food and gas, are closed on Sunday, she said.

“It’s pretty strict. It almost sounds biblical,” said Joseph Steinberg, who works for Green Armor Solutions, a security software company in Bergen County.

The blue laws don’t affect his business directly, but he said he feels their impact as a consumer. When Steinberg needs to buy a product from Best Buy or another electronic store on Sunday for his business, he has to travel about 30 miles because all the stores within the county limits are closed, Steinberg said.

He said one of the thoughts behind keeping the blue laws is to free up traffic on the streets. But less traffic on the roads means less traffic on the ground, Steinberg said. Several of Bergen County’s retail stores aren’t reaching their economic potential because of this, he said.

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