Shop till you drop

I was astonished to read recently that the Spanish government is going to oblige shops in some cities to stay open for longer hours, and double the number of Sundays and public holidays - including Malaga, Cordoba, Granada and Sevilla. When I first arrived here in Spain almost nine years ago, I found it strange that supermarkets weren't open on Sundays. Having come from London, I was used to being able to do food and clothes shopping all weekend. It seemed, to me, provincial in the extreme that such a large city as Seville should shut down on Sunday. I was even lucky enough to live near an Opencor - as its name suggests, it has conveniently long opening hours - for a year, which was great as a one-stop shop for newspapers, milk, bread and other Sunday necessities. Then I realised that it's not such a bad thing. You can still get fresh bread from bakeries in the morning, and petrol stations also stay open, although their prices are massively inflated. But otherwise, you get what you need on Saturday, and then on Sunday you go out for lunch, or meet friends, or spend the day in the countryside. These days things have changed in any case, in that there are plenty of Chinese shops open all hours for groceries and endless hideous cheap plastic toys. Now Señor Rajoy has decided in his wisdom (actually, desperation to get the economy moving, and people spending again) to allow retail outlets in 15 cities around Spain with more than 200,000 residents, or which receive more than 400,000 cruise ship passengers per year, to open their doors to the public - including tourists, who generally have more money to spend than locals - on up to 16 Sundays and public holidays, instead of eight. These cities include Malaga, Granada, Cordoba and Sevilla. On the plus side, this is very handy for those who find it difficult to get to the shops on a weekday or Saturday - many people, especially those with their own businesses, work six days a week, in these tough times. For those stores for whom being open means a good day's income, rather than barely covering their staff and utility costs, this is welcome news. Tourists will also find it very handy - weekends don't exist where you're in a foreign country and you urgently need a new suitcase/bikini/packet of nappies. Malaga is an increasingly popular cruise destination (600,000 passengers arrived there in 2011), and departure and arrival port. This constant flow of affluent visitors is another commercial incentive for providing as many available retail opportunities as possible, as much of the time as possible. On the minus side, the calm and sanctity of Sundays will be broken, and perhaps Spanish people will try to live beyond their means, spending money they just don't have. Shops which are obliged to open but don't want to - because they want the time off, or they know won't cover their costs - won't be happy, while conversely, those stores which can't open on those days will be at an unfair disadvantage. The nitty gritty, if you're interested, is this: from 1 January 2013 shop opening hours in the 15 cities, for those premises measuring less than 300m2 (150m2 in some autonomous regions), will increase from 72 to 90 hours per week (which works out as up from 12 to 15 hours a day, six days a week), and on 16 (instead of eight) public holidays - although this can be as low as 10. Crucially, the relevant Ayuntamientos have yet to decide where is their "zona de gran afluencia turistica" - the area where the wallets are most readily opened, and therefore the streets where the new law will be applied. In Malaga, for example, this area will probably encompass calles Larios, Granada and Nueva, being the main shopping thoroughfares, not to mention the shopping centre at the new cruise terminal, Muelle Uno. But also other towns in Malaga province which have a heavy tourist presence, like Marbella (especially), Fuengirola and Torremolinos, may also benefit (or not, depending on your view) from the new law. In Seville, the traditional shopping square between calles Mendez Nuñez, Laraña, Puente y Pellon, and Plaza Nueva (plus Avenida de la Constitucion), will probably be considered apt for the increased hours. Do you think this is a good idea - would you find it more convenient having shops open longer hours, and on Sundays? Or do you think it will eat away at the fabric of Spanish society, where Sundays and public holidays have always been sacrosanct for the family?
Blog published on 16 July 2012