Early closure of shops: Opening a Pandora’s box
By: Rasheed Abou-Alsamh
The recent announcement that a government high commission has completed the creation of new regulations that would restrict most retailers in the Kingdom to the opening hours of 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. has unsurprisingly caused much controversy. Although the intention behind the new regulations are noble, most notably to create favorable working conditions for Saudi men and women, the effect of the law could be a serious inconvenience to the majority of the population both Saudi and expatriate.
A distinction should be made between the various types of retail outlets: Shops in malls, supermarkets, restaurants, fast-food outlets and recreational centers. All serve distinct groups of clients that need them at different times of the day. I don’t see why shops in malls cannot stay open until 10 p.m. You would think that Saudi Arabia was some European country like Switzerland where everyone goes to bed by 10 p.m. on weekdays. Our reality is that our daily lives are ruled by prayer times and by the heat of the day and the lesser heat of the night. Most people work during the day, and therefore leave shopping for food and clothes to the evening hours. Therefore, restricting these hours, which already find themselves cut down when shops close for the Maghrib and Isha prayers at night, means there would hardly be any time left for shopping in the evenings during the week if the 9 p.m. closing time were enforced.
And what about private sector employees who also work at night? I used to work until10:30 p.m. most nights and on my way home would regularly stop at a supermarket to buy some food to cook at home for my dinner. With the new law I would not be able to do that.
Defenders of the new law say that it will increase the quality of family life for all. But I find that doubtful. What it will do is become a major inconvenience to the majority of society, who will have to suffer with restricted shopping hours.
I remember growing up in Geneva, Switzerland, with its Calvinist inspired shopping hours, where all the shops closed at 6:30 p.m. every day. A major pain if you worked the whole day and had to rush to attempt and do a bit of grocery shopping on your way home before the shops closed. The shops there today still close at the same time.
I don’t think anyone is asking for 24-hour supermarkets anymore. That was a fad that came and went.
Here in Brasilia one of the largest supermarket chains recently announced that several of its units that were 24-hours would now close at midnight because of a lack of demand and because they could not find enough workers willing to work the graveyard shift. Fair enough, I say. Who wants to go shopping for cereal and detergent at 2 a.m. anyways?
But I still think that a 10 p.m. closing time for mall stores, and an 11 p.m. or midnight closing time for supermarkets and fast-food outlets is not asking for too much. I doubt that these timings are going to deter young Saudis from seeking jobs in these sectors.
The writer is a Saudi journalist based in Brazil.