What's wrong with a few days without shopping?

Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick, McLeods Booksellers' Michael Byrne and MP Todd McClay in celebratory mood ahead of the ...
BENN BATHGATE/FAIRFAX NZ

Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick, McLeods Booksellers' Michael Byrne and MP Todd McClay in celebratory mood ahead of the Easter weekend. The Rotorua Lakes Council voted in February to allow shops to open on Easter Sunday.

It's a gripe of mine that comes around as regularly as Easter. In fact, it's a grumble inextricably entwined with the annual festival.

I'm talking about the obsession in some parts of the community with pushing to have shops open on Easter Sunday.

 At the risk of repeating myself (actually it's not a risk at all – I know for certain that I've written frequently on this topic for more than a decade) but as regular readers will know I seem to be in a shrinking minority of Kiwis who think that perhaps having all shops closed for just three-and-a-half days in 365 is not a particularly onerous imposition.

 I was unwillingly prepared to concede defeat when the Government recently passed the Shop Trading Hours Amendment Bill and passed the hot potato (or perhaps that should be the hot cross bun) to local councils, leaving them to decide whether businesses in their area should be allowed to open on Easter Sunday.

 I anticipated that as local council chambers are often disproportionately populated by businesspeople, that would bring my seemingly one-man crusade on Easter trading to an end. But I was wrong – I had either misjudged the demographics of councils' makeup, or – and I think this is more likely – councillors were this year taking a softly, softly approach to implementing their new powers. In other words, they were awaiting public reaction and monitoring what other councils had decided to do.

 The result was that Easter Sunday trading in New Zealand was an even bigger mish-mash than before, with councils in some regions opting to allow trading and a good many others, including Timaru, sticking with the status quo.

 I'm glad there hasn't been a wholesale stampede to authorise shops to open on Easter Sunday and I'm not speaking on any religious grounds. It's hardly outrageous that shops should be forced to stay closed on Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Christmas Day and half of Anzac Day. If people can't do their shopping on the other 361 days in the year then it's time they reorganised their priorities.

 And I don't buy the argument that tourists expect the shops to be open – domestic tourists know the rules and if having the shops closed on a couple of days over Easter gives them palpitations then perhaps it's time they kicked their shopping habit and reacquainted themselves with family and friends.

 As for overseas visitors, it's a myth perpetuated by big businesses that these people look on New Zealand as being a frozen-in-time backwater if the shops aren't open on so-called public holidays.

 I've just returned from a visit to Nicaragua and Easter festivities in this Catholic-dominated country were just beginning, a whole week before the holiday weekend – and Easter for Nicaraguans is a HOLIDAY weekend, with banks, shops and all other stores closed. They take the opportunity to spend time with their families, as do the inhabitants of most other Latin American countries in which Easter is the major festival of the year.

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 In Costa Rica, which I also visited, we were told businesses there would be closed from Thursday through to Easter Sunday.  Tourists are warned that banks, museums, post offices and government buildings all close for four days over the holiday period. There appears to be no public outcry at businesses in Costa Rica being closed for longer at Easter than Kiwis must "endure" in the course of a whole year.

  However, I'm resigned to the fact that I'm a King Canute on this subject and that inevitably the tide of commercial interests will eventually submerge this once sacred day. Easter Sunday will soon suffer the same fate as Boxing Day and become just another excuse for a shopping free-for-all.

 Sadly, it will be deemed progress.

 

 - Stuff

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