Now that Germany's unpopular store closing law has been scrapped, state legislatures have started liberalizing opening hours, and permitting round-the-clock shopping six days a week.
During special events such as the World Cup soccer games this past summer, store opening hours were liberalized
North Rhine Westphalia passed a state law on Thursday that permits stores in Cologne, Düsseldorf and Essen, among other cities, to stay open 24 hours a day from Monday to Saturday, and on four Sundays or holidays a year. The densely populated western state follows the lead of the Berlin state legislature last week, which in addition to the Monday through Saturday 24 hour rule, will stores to be open on Sundays ten days a year.
This past summer, Germany's unpopular Ladenschlussgesetz or store closing law was scrapped in a move to shift federal power to Germany's sixteen states, several which have been expected to expand their store opening hours regulations, which used to be among the most restrictive in Europe.
Europe's most deregulated shopping legislation
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The economically depressed eastern states of Saxony-Anhalt and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania are also expected to completely deregulate shopping hours six days a week, while retailers in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, which borders on France, will be permitted to remain open until 10 pm during the week.
Up until now, the fifty-year-old Ladenschlussgesetz, which has undergone numerous reforms over the last 17 years, mandates stores can be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays, and imposes a general ban on Sunday opening. Exceptions include florists in the vicinity of hospitals and shops at airports and railway stations.
Before 1989, stores were only allowed to open until 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and 2:00 p.m. on Saturdays, with many smaller general stores closing even earlier.
Unions and churches critical of extended shopping hours
The law was deeply unpopular with German consumers, but defended by unions, which argued that longer hours did not necessarily contribute to higher revenues and that they posed a threat to smaller family-owned shops, which could not compete with the longer opening hours and resources of large department stores and supermarket chains.
The churches have also been strong critics of store hours liberalization and in particular of Sunday trading as interfering with family life and promoting excessive consumption.
A mega-media store in Berlin plans to experiment with all night shopping on Fridays
Wolfgang Huber, spokesman for the Protestant Church, said "Can you imagine an entire month without a single shopping-free Sunday? That means protection of our Sundays and holidays, which are supposed to be guaranteed by our constitution, has completely fallen away."
Retailers say that liberal state laws simply give them the latitude to set their own hours, but how long they decide to remain open would depend on public demand for extended hours.Larger chains in central locations, such as C & A at the heart of Berlin's Alexanderplatz plan to open late on weekdays and Dussmann, the media department store on the central Unter den Linden boulevard plans to do business all night on Fridays.