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.
“Shopping-wise, it means less foot traffic, so it obviously has economic impact,” he said, adding that it limits job opportunities for teens or weekend workers who can only work one day — Saturday.
Bergen County, though, is by no means ailing economically. Baratta said Bergen is one of the wealthier counties in New Jersey and the United States. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economics, Bergen County was ranked 23rd in the country for highest personal income per capita at $65,486 in 2010. The U.S. Census Bureau showed Bergen County's median income from 2007 to 2011 as $83,443, which was $12,263 more than the state average.
“It wouldn’t have a big effect on the county whether we had Sunday businesses open or not," Baratta said. “People have so much money to spend and I don’t think having six days or seven days is going to make a difference.”
Baratta said supporters and opponents of the blue laws are passionate about the blue laws. Polling has shown, she said, that the majority of Bergen County still supports the blue laws.
Steinberg contends letting businesses decide whether they want to be open on Sundays and allowing market forces to work it out would be the best solution.
Customer is king
Amazon’s decision to start delivering on Sunday was about the customers, Cheeseman said.
“Adding Sunday as a delivery day is a way Amazon customers can get their orders every day of the week,” Cheeseman said. “We believe it’s an added convenience to our customers to deliver these packages to our customers on Sunday.”
Amazon will start Sunday delivery in the New York City and Los Angeles metro areas, Cheeseman said, and by 2014 Amazon plans to bring Sunday deliveries to Dallas, Houston, New Orléans and Phoenix, among other areas.
Customer demand is also the reason cellphone provider Verizon opens its doors on Sunday, said Bob Kelly, a spokesman for Verizon.
“We’re a national company,” Kelly said. “Our stores' hours are pretty standardized across the country. And customers do rely on us seven days a week and we want to be there for them when they need us to be there.”
Mobile technology, Kelly said, is growing and becoming “a part of the very fabric” of people’s lives. “That means having retail stores open seven days a week,” he said.
Branding and sacrifice
For Richard Storm, who runs a photography business in Queens, a New York City borough, being open on Sunday is about branding as well as meeting customers' needs. Local mom and pop stores can market themselves as a store open seven days a week to attract customers, he said.
“You want to beat out the competition,” he said. “Customer service is a really big part of that. If you offer something that someone else doesn’t, then it’s better for you.”
Laudati faced similar competitive pressure in New York City. The only way to stay afloat, she said, was to open on Sundays.
But she feels there’s a sacrifice people make by remaining open on Sundays.
“I’m very happy from a business standpoint to keep my clients happy, but I would much prefer to stay closed on Sundays,” she said. “It’s a strain. And you can tell it’s a strain because you’re always making a sacrifice for your loved ones or your personal life.”
Giving all employees that break from the workweek was the main reason why Hobby Lobby changed its policy.
Parker said the Oklahoma-based company didn't always close its stores on Sundays. But in 1999, its evangelical Christian owners tested the idea out on a store in Nebraska. A year later, all company stores closed their doors on Sundays.
"Sunday would be a profitable day to open," he said. "But we feel that taking care of our employees is more important."