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Sunday shopping won’t solve problems, but cause new ones

August 8, 2013

Dear Mr Editor,

Recently there was an article about the Chamber of Commerce's campaign about Sunday shopping laws. Please allow me to comment on this article.

First of all, as Mrs MacPhee assured me she was misquoted in The Royal Gazette about the “in general positive response” from the churches. In actual fact the majority of the churches that responded were not in favour of the suggestions.

Secondly, Mrs. MacPhee was disappointed that she only received few answers from churches. While I don't know all the reasons for that, one could be that July is a time when church administrations slow down, pastors go on vacation, and most church councils don't meet in July and August. I myself almost overlooked her e-mail, but was one who answered. I forwarded my e-mail to my church members and received a lot of feedback agreeing with me.

Besides this let us talk about the pros and cons of Sunday retail. I understand that the retail sector, like most sectors of our economy, is looking for new ways to increase business. Retail is an important part of any economy and many jobs are involved. The question is whether opening 7 days a week would actually bring the desired results and what impact it would have on our culture.

Keeping the Sunday (and other holidays) as a protected days is a cultural value we should not lightly get rid of for a short term benefit. There is much more involved than religion. To have one day off for most people at the same time (there are always some essential services which will require Sunday work) is priceless. Looking at Hamilton alone I guess there are several hundred if not thousand people working in retail. Every floor manager, every cashier, every warehouse hand will be affected. Many people are rightly concerned about the family structures in our country. We talk about the lack of role models. To have time off together for parents and children is essential for healthy families.

Sports as an important part of our culture requires times when many people can come together, as participants in matches, as supporters, or as spectators. Sports are bringing people together. Imagine the Bermuda Marathon or other big race events like the End-to-End without or many less local participants or spectators. Especially team sports like football will be affected when mom cannot drive the children to the match because she is working, or the young adult players have to work on the weekend again. Think who would be missing at cup match (whether at the games, or on family outings) if all retail employees were ordered to work.

We would have a lot of additional traffic on Sundays, which would impact us all. We are human beings, not “human doings.” We need time just to be without work, and we need time without shopping, because we are not “human havings” either.

While the Chamber claims that nobody would be forced to work on Sundays, we know that reality would most likely be different for most employees. Mrs. MacPhee knows that you cannot run a big retail shop without at least a great number of the regular employees. If you look at the grocery markets that are open already on Sunday afternoons, you will find mainly the same cashiers, shelf packers, and managers that you see on other days. You need employees who know the operation well and who you can trust. Some shops might employ additional people, but most will just distribute the labour differently. Most employees are not in a position to say “no” to the boss, or would just be tempted by the extra dollars they could make.

While a healthy young person might be physically able to work 7 days a week for a while, it will have its toll physically, psychologically and socially at some point.

A lot of customers don't immediately see the negative consequences of regular Sunday retail. If you open a shop on Sundays you have huge additional costs (payroll plus Sunday bonus, electricity, administration, security) as a shop keeper without necessarily selling more goods. This cost will ultimately be added to the prices. People who say they would like to shop on Sundays should keep that in mind. Bermuda already has a price disadvantage, which is one reason why some people buy on the internet or go on regular shopping trips to the US.

The reduction in retail in the last years has more to do with demographics than with spending less by the individual consumer. We lost more than 3000 inhabitants, many of them well off expats who spent a lot of money. The people who stayed did not necessarily spend less money shopping and cannot just increase their spending because there is an extra day. The sales will just spread out more and shift from other days to Sundays. While many small businesses and family operated shops will actually not be able to open an extra day due to lack of capacity or for other reasons (Keep in mind that shops with less than 2500 square feet retail space could be open already, but hardly any are open except in Dockyard, where it makes sense with the tourists), the bigger retailers like Phoenix, P-Tech, Brown and co, Gibbons, Coopers, Gorham's, or Masters will be able to do so and just gain a bigger piece of the retail market. In the end several small shops might even have to close altogether because they will lose most of their customers to the big shops. This is not about additional business for the whole sector, but redistribution from the small shops to the big ones.

Sundays used to be days of rest. There is a reason why commerce and work are restricted on that day. We are not machines. We need time to rewind, relax, and reconnect with each other (and with God for that matter). As it is Sundays are already too busy and noisy. Too many trucks have Sunday permits. Too many gardens are professionally maintained on Sundays. Too many self-employed people work 24/7. Yes, there are certain essential services that we need or want on Sundays. Jesus allowed essential work on the Sabbath, however, retail is not really one of them.

If the retail sector is hurting we need to find solutions. But that means to take an honest look at the situation and not to just come with quick fixes. One of the biggest problems with retail in Bermuda is that most shops close at 5pm during the week when office workers finally would have time to shop. Why touch the Sunday when there could be 12 more shopping hours by just staying open until 7pm? Some shops may even achieve this by opening later, because there are very few customers at 9am.

Another issue is the price structure. While there are obvious reasons that prices here might be slightly higher than in the US, the difference is just too big for many goods (not for all, and those retailers do pretty well). Retailers usually buy their goods not for the US retail price but from wholesalers or manufacturers for much less and without VAT (Mind you that US retailers mark up their goods between 30 to 100% already, which is why they can give up to 20 % discount at times and still make a profit). To bring in goods via container is much cheaper than the individual mailbox services private people use. Customs rates for most goods brought in by retailers in containers are much lower than the standard 25% for individual imports and are paid on the actual price the retailer paid, not the retail value. Thus, if individuals can buy a computer, camera, or electric tool at retail prices in the US, pay about $10 to $20 per pound (including fuel surcharge, service fee etc) for the shipping agent, pay 25% customs duty, and still save 50 to 70% compared to some retailers something is out of sync. If that difference was somewhere around 10 to 20%, I am sure even more people would “Buy Bermuda.”

Another issue people should not forget is the domino effect of softening Sunday protection. Once the retail sector works on Sundays, wholesale will follow, than certain service providers, offices, car dealers, garages, and before long most people will work 7 days a week. The assumed advantage that people would be off on Sunday to shop would be gone. Some big retailers would profit but our culture, our families, our churches, our sports clubs, and many individuals would suffer from such changes.

Yours in Christ

Pastor Karsten Decker, Peace Lutheran Church, Paget.

After circulating the following church leaders have given their approval of this letter:

Rev. Nick Dill, Bishop of the Anglican Church in Bermuda

Pastor Troy Hassell

Pastor John Fraser

Minister Jocille Blakeney

Rev. David Mathews

(Photo by Mark Tatem) Not the answer: Sunday shopping is not the way to save the Island's retail woes according to several religious leaders.

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Published August 14, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated August 14, 2013 at 6:05 pm)

Sunday shopping won’t solve problems, but cause new ones

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