Over the weekend, some Berlin retailers and shoppers were the first to take advantage of a new law that allows stores to set their own hours and stay open longer. One store even threw a party.
Shop till you drop is being taken literally in Berlin
Shoppers who crowded into the large Dussmann bookstore in the center of Berlin Friday night were greeted by live jazz, complimentary croissants and champagne. Lines of customers waited as cashiers tried to keep up while other shoppers nearby perused books and CDs.
Other than the music and free food and drinks, it could have been any ordinary night at the perennially busy bookstore except for one thing: The clock in the bookstore had long since struck midnight.
This weekend, Dussmann became one of the first German retailers to take advantage of a new law passed by the Berlin Senate a few weeks ago that allows stores to be open 24 hours from Monday to Saturday and for 10 Sundays annually.
Store officials said the decision to stay open all night with the "Shop Closing Hours Killer Party" had paid off.
Customers happy shopping into the wee hours
"We had about 6,000 shoppers pass through from 10 p.m. Friday to 10 a.m. Saturday, hours that we are usually closed," said store spokesman Steffen Ritter. "It is like the days just before Christmas."
Though analysts disagree on whether longer hours will have an impact on shopping habits, people out late over the weekend said they were pleased with the change.
"I can't usually make it to stores by 8 p.m. because of work," said Frank Dederichs, who was examining jazz CDs at Dussmann. "Besides, this is a great way to relax."
A revolutionary change
Stores, such as Galeries Lafayette, hope to extend their hours
In a country that has only extended shopping hours to 8 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays in the past decade, the change is revolutionary.
New opening hours came about after federal lawmakers, who are trying to streamline regulations and boost the economy, liberalized Germany's shopping law by allowing the 16 federal states to set their own limits on when stores can open -- and close -- their doors. So far, all the states, with the exception of Bavaria and Saarland, have considered extending shopping hours.
Retailers in the largest state, North Rhine-Westphalia, can open until 10 p.m. from Monday to Saturday starting on Tuesday. Saxony-Anhalt will start allowing round-the-clock shopping, except on Sunday, from Nov. 30. Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse, Thuringia, Brandenburg and Schleswig-Holstein plan to follow the trend on Dec. 1.
Laden with a debt 62 billion euros ($84 billion) and an official unemployment rate hovering near 17 percent, officials in the capital city said they hope longer opening hours will stimulate demand, create jobs and add tax revenue to the city’s coffers.
But retail experts warn that it will take time to measure the results, particularly because the change is occurring just before the busy Christmas shopping season.
Some still grumbling
Bishop Wolfgang Huber has criticized the move
Regardless of how much money the new law could bring in, some are not pleased with the changes. Church officials such as Bishop Wolfgang Huber, chairman of the council of the Protestant Church in Germany told news agency dpa that the move was "a mistake" and a "cloak and dagger" operation.
Union leaders are grumbling, too. Currently, many large retailers, such as KarstadtQuelle and Metro, are in negotiations with workers' representatives to be able to stay open longer -- union leaders say they want to find a way to get extra compensation for employees forced to work the later hours.
As a result, most Berlin retailers kept to their original store hours this weekend. According to representatives from the Karstadt, KaDeWe, Wertheim and Galleries Lafayette department stores, it wasn't possible to rearrange employee schedules so quickly, though they added that they hope to extend their hours by Dec. 1.
Scrambling to stay open
Over the weekend meanwhile, other stores scrambled to remain open. Clothier C&A at Alexanderplatz stayed open Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m. Shops near Dussmann, such Rossmann pharmacy and Butlers, which sells housewares, also stayed open late Saturday when they saw the there was so much action down the street.
Could this be a spot for a second date?
"It was a last minute decision," said a Butlers' employee, adding that it was only decided Saturday afternoon.
Some shoppers said they hoped that grocery stores would follow suit, while others said it would be great to be able to hit the shops on Sundays all year round as well.
For at least two shoppers, the new opening hours provided more than a chance to get some early Christmas shopping done.
A Dussmann customer who declined to give his name whispered that he brought his blind date to the bookstore because it was a great way to get to know her: "It's more comfortable than a bar."