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Yearning to shop on Sunday

Busy working folks have no time to shop. In the context of the new work culture that has taken root, a debate is on whether shops should be open on Sundays, as PREMA MANMADHAN discovers.

THAT NEW, pink sari has been lying in the wardrobe for close to two months, nestling in the company of mothballs. Chandrika has been longing to wear it but she has not found time to buy a blouse for it so far. " I leave home at 8 am and come home after 8 pm. By then all the shops are closed. How can I buy a blouse piece unless I take leave?," the middle level manager in a reputed firm laments.

That most city shops remain closed on Sundays and open only from 10 am to 8 pm is irritating the new breed of professionals. Gone are the days when people had a 9-5 job. The new work culture demands longer working hours and most people reach home only after 8 pm. With more and more MNCs opening their account in the city, and with bank employees too working late into the night, a need for shops to open on Sunday is growing. French leave is passé. People nowadays carry home work.

"Back in Chennai, you will find many shops that open on Sunday, and we used to shop then, at leisure. But here, the roads are deserted and even the number of buses comes down on a Sunday. It looks like the entire city is taking a holiday," grumbles Krishnan, who has just been transferred from Chennai, working in an MNC. "If I take leave, my target suffers. Though my office is in the city, I cannot go off for some time in between to do my shopping as we don't work like Government offices, with a compulsory lunch-break etc," he grins.

In contrast, Gopalan, who is working in a press, and has Monday as his day off, is pleased that he can do all his personal work on a Monday, like paying his telephone and electricity bills, servicing his electrical appliances and shopping in the evenings. "I am comfortable with Monday as my day off as I will be wasting my day off if it fell on a Sunday," he remarks.

This Sunday-holiday syndrome has so entrenched itself in the merchant's psyche that they are finding it difficult to address the question.

Says the president of the Ernakulam Merchants' Union, L. A. Joshi, "Traditionally, it has been the practice in the city to down the shutters on Sunday. We want to be with our families on Sunday. Usually family functions like visits and weddings are scheduled for Sundays. Moreover, there are several practical difficulties in keeping shops open on Sundays. For one, banks do not function. So wholesale shops will definitely have to close on Sundays. With regard to retail shops, there is so much crime in the city that even when we go home with small collections, we are robbed. Imagine the risk if we go home with the whole day's collections," he wonders.

This suggestion cropped up at a recent meeting on easing traffic, Mr Joshi said: To keep the shops on one street or road open on one Sunday and give it a holiday on a week day, so that traffic will be less congested.

"But few people are willing to work on a Sunday and business will suffer if such an idea is put into practice," he explained. According to the Labour Department rules, every worker should be given one day off in a week, but according to the Shop and Commercial Act, a shop MUST remain closed on one day of the week, says Ernakulam District Labour Officer (Enforcement), Chandrashekharan Nair.

The Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samiti (Maradu, Poonithura, Champakara area) secretary, V. S. Urmis says, restaurants, bakeries and small shops are mostly open on Sundays in the area. But since many employees prefer Sunday for their day off, the preferred day of closure is Sunday. Anyway, the option can be discussed, he feels, at the next meeting.

That all barber shops are closed on Tuesdays is a pointer to the current demand. The association decided a long time ago that they should open on Sundays. "We get the highest clientele on Sunday," says a hair salon owner at Palarivattom.

Most supermarkets are open on Sundays as also the vegetable and meat markets. "That's such a blessing and we can shop at leisure. Why don't the other big shopping complexes do the same? They do not know how many customers they are losing, because of this Sunday closure," complains Molly Johnny, a bank officer. Susie, a salesgirl at one of the biggest supermarkets in the city confirms that Sundays are very busy days for her, just as all evenings are.

A debate on whether shops should open on Sundays is long overdue. But if only a few shops open, the purpose is not served, as shoppers like a wide selection. That traffic will be lean on Sundays, is reason enough to want to shop, if there are shops. In that context, the powers that be and the associations concerned could discuss the issue threadbare, feel many in the city.

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