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To Shop or to Stop?

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Store closed for Thanksgiving Day football game. Payette, Idaho. (Russell Lee, photographer, 1903-1986.) (Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)
Store closed for Thanksgiving Day football game. Payette, Idaho. (Russell Lee, photographer, 1903-1986.) (Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

I’m betting at least a few of our readers braved the Black Friday shopping crowds to get their hands on particular products at bargain prices.  You may have even ventured out to shop on Thanksgiving Thursday, with a number of stores deciding to open much earlier than in previous years.  Of course, as was widely reported, this change generated quite a bit of debate in the lead up to Thanksgiving.  Some people welcomed the ability to get even more of a jump on the bargains, while others argued that the Thanksgiving Day shopping encroaches on family time for both the shoppers and the staff who have to man the decks.  In any case, it seems to have proved popular with shoppers!  For me, always the comparatist and learner of American idiosyncrasies, “Grey Thursday” shopping raised the question of whether retailers are legally restricted from trading on any day of the year in the U.S., or whether any such closures are just by choice.  It also led me to wonder about shop trading rules in other countries.

Any restrictions on store hours here in the U.S. would be found in state or even municipal laws.  While individual states or counties might set out days or hours during which alcohol can’t be sold, the same restrictions do not largely apply to shops that sell other products.  In fact, according to researchers, there are only three states that still don’t allow retail stores to open on Thanksgiving Day.  Thus, on the whole, retailers are deciding themselves whether or not to close on particular holidays, particularly Christmas Day and Easter Sunday.  Many aspects of the so-called “blue laws” of the past have been repealed.

If you’re both a shopaholic and a traveler it’s always worth checking the public holiday (and weekend) trading rules and practices in any country you’re visiting.  You wouldn’t want to be stuck wandering the streets desperately trying to find trinkets on the last day of your trip and being faced with “closed” signs on all the doors!  This applies to foodies as well, since that restaurant you really wanted to try might just be shuttered too.

We’ve published several previous posts on how public holidays are observed in a few other countries.  For example, my post on Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand explained some of the customs associated with that day – including the fact that in both countries most retail shops remain closed until the middle of the day.  This is a legal requirement, as are restrictions on trading on Christmas Day and at Easter, with penalties applying to those that breach the law.  In Australia, the rules for holiday trading are set by each state, while in New Zealand these rules are set nationally.  There has been discussion over the years about lifting Easter trading restrictions in New Zealand, and various stores have breached the law by opening, but so far no changes have been made.

In England and Wales, large retail stores (defined by their floor size) must close on Easter Sunday and Christmas Day, and can be fined if they open.  Various countries in Europe (or regions within countries) also have restrictions on trading on certain holidays or otherwise traditions around shops opening on these days.  For example, in Denmark many shops must be closed for at least part of the day on Danish Constitution Day (Grundslovdag), which falls on June 5, as well as on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve.  However, it seems that the shop closing hour law (lukkeloven) was liberalized in 2012 so now shops can open for longer hours and on Sundays during the rest of the year.

In China, one of the biggest public holidays is the Chinese New Year festival, which runs for several days.  Travel at this time of year might be compared to the day before Thanksgiving in the U.S., as shown in Laney’s post earlier this year, but with even more people trying to get home to family!  However, it doesn’t seem like there are any specific rules that would prevent stores from opening during this or other holidays in China, although many holidays are classed as non-working days.

Toronto's Eaton Center. Boxing day December 26, 2008. (Photo by Flickr user Roozbeh Rokni.)
Toronto’s Eaton Center. Boxing day December 26, 2008. (Photo by Flickr user Roozbeh Rokni.)

In India, many of the major states have a Shops and Establishments Act that allows the relevant governing body to declare that shops must remain closed on particular days.  For example, under the Delhi Shops Act, the Delhi government may place a notice in the Official Gazette stating on which three national holidays shops and commercial establishments must close and can also specify other “close days” for different types of shops.  However, there are exceptions from the closing requirement, such as where the close day coincides with a religious festival or the “Mahurat Day.”  Another example is the state of Andhra Pradesh (A.P.), where there were nine closed holidays for shops in 2013, including Independence Day, Republic Day, and various religious festival holidays.

Of course, some public holidays have also become major shopping days in some countries.  For example, Boxing Day, the day after Christmas Day and a public holiday in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and other Commonwealth countries, has long been a day when end of year sales start.  Boxing Day 2012 in London saw crowds lining up (i.e., “queuing” in British parlance) outside stores overnight, with many stores reporting their busiest day ever and online shopping also proving hugely popular – including on Christmas Day.  Stores seem to now be opening at 6am on Boxing Day.  I wonder if this will start to be pushed even earlier like it has for Black Friday in the U.S.?

Since travelers usually want to shop (and eat) or find supplies during their trips, good sources of information about shop opening hours and holiday closures might be the tourist information website for the country, or travel advice websites and hard copy guides.  Here at the Law Library we sometimes like learning about this kind of meeting of culture and the law just for fun!  Where have you lived or traveled that has different restrictions on shopping on particular days?  Do you think it’s a good idea, or is deregulation the way to go?  Let us know in the comments.


  1. I had the best haircut I’ve ever had in London one Good Friday. Not something you can get in Sydney on Good Friday!

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