It wasn’t until 1980 that then Prime Minister Bill Bennett relaxed the ban on Sunday shopping.
My brilliant idea to solve the labor shortage: No more Sunday shopping.
You’re welcome. I will modestly accept your adulation.
We take for granted what kind of workplaces are open when. Some – government operations, schools, banks and all those offices that fill commercial buildings from the second floor up – close every weekend, as dark and lifeless as Oak Bay after Danger. Retail stores on the ground floor, on the other hand, are mostly open seven days a week.
We forget that it has not always been so. Sundays and statutory holidays were once prohibited in British Columbia by law.
It wasn’t until 1980 that then-Premier Bill Bennett relaxed the ban, saying Sunday shopping would be allowed in municipalities where residents voted to approve it.
Of course, here in Dysfunction-by-the-Sea, where our myriad municipalities couldn’t coordinate a three-car funeral without going four directions and losing the steep, that led to a patchwork of regulations. While residents of Esquimalt, Sidney, and then unincorporated West Shore communities endorsed Sunday shopping in 1980, those of Saanich rejected it. Victoria and Oak Bay didn’t vote at all until 1981 – the same year grocers in Saanich were fined for opening on Sundays while competitors in Esquimalt, Colwood and Sidney were allowed to continue to operate.
Eventually, the whole region agreed to shop on Sundays, although it was mainly the grocery stores and the tourist area of Government Street that took advantage of the option. It wasn’t until the pre-Christmas season of 1984, with Woodward’s department store in the lead, that more retailers got started.
This brought a warning that the phenomenon would spread, like COVID. “Nobody wants to go Sunday shopping all year round, but if someone does, others will,” the president of the Downtown Victoria Association said in early 1985. “It’s a loser situation -loser, but when your contest is open, you lose less by opening on Sunday than by remaining closed.
Being open longer might have seemed acceptable to large corporations who looked at their stores the same way airlines look at passenger planes – they only make money when they’re in the air – but family shops were given the choice between A) paying more staff and B) never having a day off. It’s not like Sunday shopping gives customers more money to spend.
It wasn’t just small businesses that were worried. Just like people who worried about the loss of collective downtime, which we would lose on Sunday as a time when we would all take a collective breath. Note that in 1967, Premier WAC Bennett, Bill’s father, railed against the commercialization of Sunday as an example of “cocktail, hippie society” eroding family life in North America.
This may be the reason why, in 1988, barely a third of the municipalities in British Columbia had OK Sunday openings, but a court decision then declared unconstitutional the entire Sunday closing law and the holidays. Forget voter approval, businesses could open whenever they want. B.C. Attorney General Bud Smith called the decision “an important victory for the interests of big business retail.”
Thus, Sunday shopping became the norm. Holiday openings took longer to be accepted, although they eventually did too. (“Christ is risen but prices are down,” I grumbled when stores opened on Easter Sunday in 1998.)
Round-the-clock shopping has not caught on, at least not in Victoria. Wal-Mart in the former Town and Country mall experimented with 24-hour opening as Christmas 2006 approached, and a few other stores followed suit in subsequent years, but they all quickly abandoned the idea. Turns out, 24-hour retail is a tough sell in a 9-5 city; it’s not like we have 1,200 carpenters going off shifts at midnight.
Moreover, the objections to 24-hour shopping were the same as they were to Sunday shopping a generation earlier: it creates a switchless society.
Which brings us to today, with workplaces forced to downsize not because of a lack of activity, but because of a lack of staff. Guessing who will be open when can feel like playing roulette.
Well, if they have to cut back anyway, why not be consistent and lock in Sunday, make it a rest day again?
Here’s why: Because for some people, Sunday is the only day they can shop. And because the competition, online commerce, is 24/7. And because the lines between home and work, on duty or on leave, have blurred beyond recognition. Raise your hand if you’re answering work texts on the beach or expecting your child’s teacher to answer an email at night. For many, the kill switch is frozen open.
We are a long way from September 1972 when Victoria, backed by most of the city’s barbershops, won a legal challenge to a regulation requiring these establishments to close not just on Sundays but on Wednesdays (or another day of their choosing). ), the idea being to guarantee barbers two days off per week.
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