When is open open?

Yesterday (Sunday) we went shopping in Oxford Street. These days, there is nothing unusual about going to the shops on Sunday and Sunday is one of the busiest shopping days of the week. This being so, it is hard to imagine that 12 years ago, such shopping expeditions would have been impossible, or at least illegal.

Until 1994, shops were not allowed to open on Sundays except for a few special outlets. The Sunday Trading Act of 1994 finally allowed shops to trade on Sundays but with restrictions: a shop that is less than 280 square metres in size can open as long as it likes on Sundays but shops larger than this can open for only six hours between 10am and 6pm. That is still the case because although proposals were put forward earlier this year to liberalize opening hours, there was no enthusiasm for a change.

XXXWe decided that the best place to go for the purchases we had in mind was John Lewis in Oxford Street. We arrived at 11:25 a.m. to find ourselves standing among a gaggle of people at the door. The doors are glass and behind them we could see uniformed shop security personnel waiting. The opening hours displayed beside the door informed us that on Sunday John Lewis opens from 12 noon to 6 p.m. so we decided to go and have a coffee and come back but just as we turned to go, the time now being 11:30 a.m., the security people opened the doors and everyone streamed in.

To cut a long story short, it appears that John Lewis opens at 11:30 to allow its customers 30 minutes “browsing time”. During this half-hour, you can walk around the store, examine the goods, seek the advice of sales staff and even, as I did, carry your purchase to the upstairs coffee lounge. The one thing you cannot do is pay for your goods and leave the store with them.

This of course raises the interesting question of how you define “open” in the context of a shop. A naive view (supported by the meaning of the word) is that a shop is “open” if the doors are open and customers can enter the premises. According to John Lewis, however, a shop is “open” only if you can actually pay for goods in it. I am not complaining, just wondering how the semantic issues were resolved and by whom.

I also thought it rather sneaky of them to open the coffee bar on the dot of 11:30 because they are sure to pick up trade from people who arrive early and have to wait until 12 to pay for their goods.

Personally, I can see no reason for restricting Sunday trading hours. If religious people want to keep Sunday as “the Lord’s Day” or others want to “Keep Sunday Special” they can do so: they have no right to impose their predilections on the rest of us. People can go to church if they wish to do so: the fact that I am carrying a wire basket around Sainsbury’s provides no obstacle to this.

It is rather ironic that when Constantine in 321 AD made an edict that Sunday should be a day exempt from all public work, he chose the very day that was already dedicated to Sol Invictus (the Unconquerable Sun), the great rival of the Christian god, with whom Constantine’s name is still irrevocably linked. I see no reason why we should be prevented from shopping or any other normal activities on Sunday because of the religious prejudices of a Roman emperor 1,685 years ago.

About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
This entry was posted in Thoughts and Ideas and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to When is open open?

  1. tomeemayeepa says:

    Fascinating angle to shopping on Sunday. I gather that under Constantine rapists were burned at the stake; their women victims were also punished if they had been raped away from home, as they, according to Constantine, had no business to be outside their own homes; any girl who ran away with her lover was burned alive; any chaperone who assisted in such goings-on had molten lead poured into her mouth. But only Monday thru Saturday.

  2. SilverTiger says:

    Constantine is generally admired in the West, presumably because he legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire (not a virtue in my book) and intervened heavily in its development but I take a dissenting view. I think he was ruthless and manipulative and no better than his predecessors. His major achievement was exalting his own name.

    He was also deceitful. His famous postponement of baptism until he was on his death bed had nothing to do with his supposed equivocal attitude to Christianity (though he hedged his bets by backing both Jesus and Sol Invictus). It was because baptism was the only sacrament that wiped away all sins, no matter how heinous. Being a head of state, he knew he would commit many acts guaranteeing him a “hot-spot” (and not a Wi-Fi one) in Hell. So he “saved” his baptism until the last possible moment so as to go to heaven clean and well pressed.

Genuine comments are welcome. Spam and comments with commercial URLs will be deleted.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s