More stores may open on Sundays

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Norway’s Labour Party is clearing the way for a re-evaluation of the country’s laws restricting opening times for retail stores. Since Labour leads the government coalition that still has a majority in Parliament, where some opposition parties already support retail liberalization, residents of Norway may soon be able to shop on Sundays in more and bigger stores.

Until just over 20 years ago, most all stores in Norway remained firmly shut on Sundays, closed early on Saturdays, and few were open in the evenings during the week. In 1999, restrictions on retail opening hours were loosened to allow stores smaller than 100 square meters to open for business on Sundays. Such stores quickly were dubbed a “Brustad bua,” after the name of a Labour government minister at the time, Sylvia Brustad, who played a key role in the retail reform.

Convenience stores attached to gasoline stations were also allowed to open, and could be up to 150 square meters in size, while exceptions were also allowed for retailers located close to public transport hubs and for retailers specializing in gardening (plants and flowers).

Law contested for years
All other retailers, including large grocery stores, had to stay closed on Sunday and most have complained ever since. Several have tested the bounds of the law, angry that some large gardening retailers also sell everything from home decorating items to outdoor furniture and barbecue equipment, and that it was unfair that other home furnishings retailers, for example, couldn’t open as well.

Labour unions have had mixed views on the store opening issue, with some urging retention of the traditional “day of rest” for their retail members while others see expanded opening hours as a source of new jobs.

Newspaper VG reported Monday that the Labour Party’s program committee now wants to review the restrictions on opening hours. Party secretary Raymond Johansen admits that the so-called “Brustad bua” may soon be history.

Urging a ‘negotiated solution’
“We’re taking the initiative that a solution can be negotiated,” Johansen said, adding that the government is willing to work with retailers and business interests on possible reform.

The news was met with jubilation by the opposition Progress Party, which has proposed such reforms on earlier occasions but only had support from the Conservative Party. Grocery store operators like REMA 1000 also welcomed the opportunity to open up for business on Sunday.

“There’s a demand for it, people’s shopping patterns have changed over the years,” one grocery store executive told Norwegian Broadcastng (NRK) on Monday. “Consumers should be the ones to decide when they want to shop.” Many Norwegians now drive over the border on Sundays to shop in Sweden, where stores have been open for years, as they have been in many other European countries as well.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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