ANOTHER VIEW

Even shopkeepers need a day off

CHARLES GORDON December 11 1989
ANOTHER VIEW

Even shopkeepers need a day off

CHARLES GORDON December 11 1989

Even shopkeepers need a day off

ANOTHER VIEW

Some people want stores open at all just in case they want to buy something at dawn on Tuesday or 11 am. on Sunday

CHARLES GORDON

Having a rare Monday off, a Canadian decided to make the most of it. He compiled for himself a list of chores that would normally be done on a Saturday, except for the crowds he would likely encounter, or could not be done on Saturday at all, because one of the businesses in question— a bank—would not be open. Then the Canadian went merrily and efficiently about his business, finding no Monday crowd at the bank, finding store after store nearly empty, until he arrived at Jack’s Electric Razor Clinic and found it closed.

“Closed Mondays,” the sign said, then went on to list the hours from Tuesday through Saturday during which the razor clinic was open and of little use to a Canadian with Monday off.

“Nuts,” the Canadian said, or words to that effect, when he saw the sign. But when he thought about it, he was shocked to find that he wasn’t really annoyed at all. “Good for Jack” was the thought that kept creeping into his mind as he pondered his alternatives.

One of them was to drive that evening to some giant suburban shopping centre that would certainly be open and might have an electric razor clinic in it. The other was to leave the electric razor in the trunk of the car and wait until the next time he was in Jack’s neighborhood on a Tuesday through Saturday. He decided to do that, and drove off not annoyed at all, merely wondering why electric razors had clinics and other appliances—say, toasters—didn’t.

There were other things he could do on a Monday, although he couldn’t get his hair cut—at least not at the usual place, the usual place also being closed Mondays. There were other barbershops open Mondays, but he liked the one that wasn’t, and he wasn’t annoyed at it either for being closed.

It was inconvenient, that was all. There were worse problems in the world than incon-

Charles Gordon is a columnist with The Ottawa Citizen.

venience. There were places in the world with no electric razors, no toasters, no toaster clinics, no stores, no Mondays off, no choices, no toast, hardly any food for sale and hardly anyone with the money to buy it. In Canada, that didn’t cut much weight with consumers who were continually demanding that stores be open at all hours during all days, just in case they happened to be in the mood to buy something at dawn on Tuesday or 11 a.m. on Sunday.

The thing that made the Canadian say “Good for Jack ” was the knowledge that Jack was bucking the tide, that Jack would take Monday off no matter what. Jack was his own man, just as the guy who owned the barbershop was his own man. Potential customers would gripe. Shopping centres would apply pressure on their tenants. Municipalities would legislate Sunday openings and longer evening hours. But the razor clinic would stay closed Mondays, and a few loyal customers would respect Jack for that and come in Tuesdays.

The hungry multinationals that own too many of our stores forget it, and the affluent double-income families forget it too, but there are places in the world where stores shut down in the afternoons for a few hours, every day.

There are countries that are shut down much tighter on Sunday than Canada is. There are countries where the taverns close earlier than in Canada. The stores survive and so do the taverns and so do the customers.

Not long ago, it was the tradition in many smaller Canadian communities for businesses to close Wednesday afternoons. In the nice weather, the golf course would be full of shopkeepers and Main Street would be devoid of shoppers. The tradition survives now only in the hearts of the most individualistic businessmen. Encountering the “Closed Wednesday” sign on the door of the oldest and best hardware store in a resort town, the potential buyer of a certain type of hinge says "Nuts,” then thinks about wandering over to the mall, which will be open, and decides instead to come back tht next day.

The hinge might be there in the chain store at the mall, but it will come packaged with five other unwanted hinges, tightly wrapped in plastic, and no one at the store will be able to answer the simplest hinge-related question.

That, however, may be the least important factor in the potential customer’s decision to eschew the mall and return on Thursday to the hardware store that was closed on Wednesday. Loyalty and individuality are at the heart of it. It is feared that they are vanishing impulses, but perhaps they are not. In every community, there are places of business that close Mondays. There are others that shut down early on Saturday or afternoons on Wednesday. Still others actively campaign against what could be a profitable trend for them—Sunday opening, still an unresolved issue in some Canadian provinces.

For each individualistic businessman, there is a core of loyal customers who may keep coming back—out of respect for the barber’s courage in defying the trend or simply because that’s where the best haircut is.

Probably, as long as there is small business there will be businessmen with individuality and convictions. Those who get the most attention, it is true, are those who go the other way, who campaign for Sunday openings and open their doors each Sunday to the police who charge them each Sunday. Such shopkeepers are treated by the media with a reverence formerly reserved for the great martyrs of history. The media, of course, know their audience: no one is more popular, in a society of relentless consumers, than a shopkeeper whose door is open.

Canadians, who increasingly take their real freedoms for granted, somehow regard it as a violation of their civil liberties to be denied the right to buy things all day and every day. It may not be an exaggeration to say that Canadians would sooner shop than vote.

The political reality reflects that more and more. The trend is to openness, seven days a week, just as it is to bigness—and to continentwide retail enterprises that can afford to be open every day and could eventually drive the smaller outlets out of business. In such an environment, the merchant who dares to close his door is even more deserving of having the world beat a path to it.