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Business

High Court Rejects Liberalizing Store Hours

Germany's highest court decided on Wednesday that the country's strict shopping hours are in line with the Constitution.

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Shoppers have until 8 p.m.-- except on Sundays

The Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe upheld the ban on stores opening after 8 p.m. and on Sundays and holidays. The court said the law was neither discriminatory nor violated freedom to practice one's profession.

The decision was triggered by a legal challenge from the nationwide department store chain Kaufhof Warenhaus, a subsidiary of the Metro Group, which was appealing a lawsuit brought against it for selling items it labled as souvenirs to be able to open on a Sunday. Kaufhof argued that the law was unfair since some shops are exempt from the ban. The eight-member court was evenly split, but without a unanimous decision the legislation cannot be changed.

Liberalizing German shopping hours has been debated for decades. The 1956 legislation that strictly limited when shops could be open was first altered in 1996, allowing stores to sell their wares until 8 p.m. on weekdays (previously 6:30 p.m.) and until 4 p.m. and Saturdays (previously 2 p.m.). Last year, Saturday opening hours were extended to 8 p.m. Sunday shopping is banned, at least in theory.

While the business community is largely in favor of extending store hours, trade unions have been decisively opposed, saying employees must then work longer hours. Along with the churches, they also reject Sunday opening hours, arguing that no one should have to work on that day.

Riddled with loopholes

But loopholes have for years undermined the restrictions, particularly on Sundays. For one, stores are allowed to be open three hours on Sundays and holidays. More importantly, different rules apply to gas stations, which are allowed to sell articles for travelers, including books, flowers and food "in small quantities."

Thus, many gas stations have practically turned into 24-hour supermarkets. In addition, newsstands and stores in train stations, airports and other places where tourist go also benefit from exemptions to the law. While a shoe store in a train station may sell footwear on Sundays, other such shops outside the station are prohibited from doing so.

The numerous exceptions have left the law riddled with loopholes, prompting Economy Minister Wolfgang Clement to say it should be scrapped.

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