Dutch Sunday shopping – the debate continues
Shops open on Sunday. In most European countries it goes without saying. But in the Netherlands, a bitter battle between supporters and opponents of Sunday shopping has been raging for years.
“Open on Sundays” reads a sign in large letters in the window of an Utrecht supermarket. Arman Khani has been fighting the council for months for permission to open on Sundays. In the end he called in a lawyer and won.
“In Iran you can open and close your shop whenever you want,” says Khani. “I don’t understand why we can’t open here. We’re not going to sell anything that isn’t allowed. We’re just a local supermarket. The extra hours on a Sunday help me pay the bills.”
In principle, according to Dutch trading law, shops have to close on Sundays. But there are many exceptions to the rule. Local councils can designate 12 Sundays a year on which shops are allowed to open. Shops with a late-night licence, like Arman Khani’s, are allowed to open every Sunday. And the same goes for shops in tourist areas, like the centre of Amsterdam.
Day of rest
The Sunday trading law has fierce opponents and supporters. Liberal parties think it should be up to shopkeepers whether they open on Sundays. The Christian parties, on the other hand, want to reduce the number of Sundays when shops can open. In their view, Sunday is a day of rest.
Arie Nieuwenhuis has a large garden centre in the village of Nieuw-Vennep, which he refuses to open on Sundays.
“I come from a Christian background. I go to church for two hours on Sunday. I don’t want to force the people to work here. The world was created in six days. God rested from his labours on the seventh day. For us it’s a special day.”
Christian arguments aren’t the only ones brought to bear in the fight against Sunday opening. Opponents fear that small shops will go under if they’re obliged to open their doors seven days a week. “It will be a huge weight on their shoulders,” says Nieuwenhuis. “They’ll have to stay open all week – a bad thing for their private lives. In many cities and villages there are still characteristic one-man businesses. They’ll have their backs against the wall. That’s not something the country should want.”
Nieuwenhuis may well be about to get his way. The Upper House of parliament is considering a bill to tighten Sunday trading regulations. It promises to keep a closer eye on whether shops really are in tourist areas, and cut back the number of Sundays that shops are allowed to open.
However, nothing would change for Arman Khani’s supermarket. “Everyone in the neighbourhood is glad I’m open for a few hours on Sundays so they can do their shopping. It’s very handy. We get lots of customers from the surrounding area. They’re very enthusiastic and come back regularly on Sundays.”
Klaas den Tek