Retailers on public holidays: ‘We need to get with the rest of world”
Bermuda’s retailers want the freedom to open on public holidays, and are lobbying the Government to make those changes to the 1947 Public Holiday Act.
“The Public Holiday Act is very outdated,” said Paula Clarke, who in addition to her position as chief executive officer at Gibbons Company, is also chairman of the retail division of the Chamber of Commerce.
“Basically, what we’re saying is the Public Holiday Act 1947 needs revision — because it is outdated. We need to get with the rest of the world. As things stand, retailers with floor space of 2500 square feet or above are restricted to opening between 1pm and 6pm on any public holiday, except for Christmas Day and Good Friday,” she explained.
The Chamber of Commerce has put out a public appeal for feedback from the community. In a recent open editorial, executive director Joanne MacPhee stated: “In the coming weeks the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce will be undertaking a robust community consultation process to ascertain the public’s response to our lobbying efforts to amend the current legislation. To be clear, we are advocating for two precise changes to the Act: 1) Sunday should not be deemed by law to be a Public Holiday, and 2) that no business should be restricted from trading based on the size of their premises.”
Ms Clarke said: “We want to engage with the public as a full consultation process, so we can get feedback from all the stakeholders and the general public.
“Comments, positive or negative, are welcome. Obviously, we are hoping for participation from the general public, because customers want to have the opportunity and freedom to shop whenever they want,” she said.
“And retailers feel that they should have the right to open on public holidays — except of course Christmas Day and Good Friday — should they feel they need to. This really is in response to the demands from the customers,” she said.
“We understand that Saturdays are engaged with sports for children and housekeeping, that sort of thing, and the only time they have to shop as a family is on a Sunday, but they become frustrated because there aren’t enough businesses open to make the journey into Hamilton a full shopping experience.
“It’s up to the businesses when they want to open, but if you have a cruise ship in port, and it’s leaving Dockyard at 2pm, then people have to be back on board by 1pm, say, and the last day of shopping is a Sunday, then we can’t even open on that day.
And she said those visitors are also looking for Sunday and public holiday store openings. “In past years they would arrive in Hamilton on Sunday, and there would be nothing to do — so they would go back to Dockyard feeling disappointed because nothing was open or available.
“We need to offer a level of service which exists anywhere else in the world — you expect to shop seven days a week. We’ve reached a point in retail where we need Bermuda to be competitive and relevant in today’s retail industry.”
“The law needs to be flexible,” she said.
“We should have the right to open our business whenever we feel it is appropriate — we need to be nimble and flexible so we can give the service that the customer expects.”
Smaller stores do have greater flexibility to open on public holidays, and Ms Clarke said a relaxation of restrictions pertaining to the larger shops should be beneficial to those smaller retailers. “The larger stores will help the smaller retailers because of that critical mass wanting to come into town or to a destination to shop.”
Special applications can be made to the Government to open on public holidays. “We have made many requests in the past for the industry for concessions, such as Good Friday last year when there was a cruise ship in St George’s. It was the only one of the season and we wanted to open on that day. We were granted special permissions to do this.” In fact, on that occasion, weather forced the ship to detour away from St George’s, she explained.
“But every time, it is a huge amount of time that goes into the application. We want to have the freedom and right to open when the demand is there.”
Ms Clarke said under the previous government, the Department of Tourism and its Minister Wayne Furbert were supportive of retailers opening on public holidays.
“Then, the election was called and everything came to a grinding halt,” she explained. “We’re going through the appropriate steps again.”
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