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Italians, backed by the Catholic Church, aim to stop Sunday shopping

A law that deregulates store hours in Italy, allowing businesses to operate on Sundays in order to stimulate economic growth, has fueled opposition since its inception a year ago.

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The campaign’s organizers argue it’s more than a matter of competing business models, but defending the right of workers and shop owners to spend time with their families.

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“On Sunday, leave us alone,” says Mina Giannandrea, a shop owner and the president of FEDERstrade, a Rome retailers’ association that’s also participating in the campaign. “People who shop on Sunday are selfish; they don’t think about those who have to work on Sunday,” Ms. Giannandrea says.

The importance of family time is the message that has perhaps resonated the most with the Catholic Church, which has thrown its support behind the campaign.

“Freedom without truth, without a higher end is mere caprice,” said Archbishop Giancarlo Bregantini, stressing the importance of a day of rest as mandated by the Bible in an interview with Vatican Radio.

Supporters of deregulation emphasize the freedom it gives consumers – a different notion of freedom than that embraced by the Confesercenti campaign. Deregulation has given customers the ability to make purchases whenever it suits them, and stores should take advantage of this during the economic downturn, says Giovanni Cobolli Gigli, the president of Federdistribuzione, an association of Italian retail chains.

“It’s not a matter of staying open 24/7, as some have self-interestedly suggested,” Mr. Cobolli Gigli says, adding that in many cases Sunday shifts are covered by workers who volunteer to get overtime, and that the increased store hours could eventually create a demand for new, part-time weekend jobs.

To think that small shops must stay open as much as chains at all costs is a mistake, says Serena Sileoni, a fellow at the pro-market think tank Istituto Bruno Leoni. Deregulation could be an opportunity for shop owners to design a schedule based on their customers’ needs and to find a profitable niche. This could ultimately lead to changes in the way Italian cities look, she argues. 

“Cities are already different from how they used to be,” Ms. Sileoni says.

Andrea Moro, a professor of economics at Vanderbilt University, says markets are always working to respond to innovation, which often comes hand-in-hand with the destruction of old ideas or traditions.

While Mr. Moro is sympathetic to the challenges faced by retail workers, he says he can think of only one path for them: “In the modern economic structure, workers must reinvent themselves, no one excluded. Thankfully, these people still have jobs and they must adapt to the new working conditions,” he says.


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