Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

From church to KA-CHING

Can't wait to buy cantaloupe? Got an issue with not being able to buy tissue? Your Sunday-morning prayers are answered

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Set the alarm and get to sleep early tonight. Tomorrow, Winnipeggers can finally exercise their right to buy laundry soap and salami at 9 o'clock on a Sunday morning.

We've hit the big time.

You will have to wait until 10 a.m. if you want to buy 36 rolls of toilet paper and a four-pack of cantaloupe at Costco, and languish until 11 a.m. to swing by the mall for a bathing suit or a pair of yoga pants.

This is River City, not New York City.

We've limped our way into modern shopping practices, firmly behind most other provinces and much of the world. Manitoba has always been a latecomer to Sunday-shopping rights. It wasn't until 1993 the province allowed merchants to peddle eggs and butter on the Sabbath.

We've come a long way from our WASP history, where the majority of people warmed a pew Sunday morning or pretended they had plans to pray. Multiculturalism and an overall slide in church attendance have made the idea of sacred Sunday mornings seem quaint.

Employees can still refuse to work Sundays, provided they give employers two weeks' notice. But if they're part-time employees or work in minimum-wage jobs, there is a risk they may not stay employed. Unions have long voiced concerns about extended hours.

The retail-hour changes thrill groups representing retailers, even as they criticize the province for not dropping all limits.

"We were hoping they would go further," says Chuck Davidson, vice-president of policy for the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce. "We were asking they would not tell retailers when they could operate."

Chamber members believe they should have the right to set their own hours, says Davidson.

"Some retailers were looking at expanding their evening hours," he says. "Shopping on Sunday is the second-busiest day of the week (after Saturday). Even in that six-hour period, it's busier than a full day on a Monday or a Tuesday."

Some businesses would like to stay open late to capture the masses coming back from the lake on Sunday evening.

"We will continue to advocate that... there should be no restrictions."

Davidson says Sunday shopping took so long to arrive in Manitoba because there was never a "government appetite" to see it happen. Until recently, as well, public polling indicated a serious divide on the subject.

The Retail Council of Canada echoes the chamber's point of view.

"There's certainly a convenience level for shoppers," says Lanny McInnes, the council's Winnipeg-based director of government relations.

"For a number of retailers, they've got customers lining up on Sunday mornings.

"There's no one-size-fits-all answer. This is the only industry that isn't allowed to set its own hours."

The Puritanical streak that once coloured Winnipeg commerce has faded over the decades. If you're middle-aged or better, you'll remember when buying a bottle of liquor meant using a stubby pencil to fill out a slip of paper and sliding it across a deep wooden counter to a disapproving government employee. Your bottle was fetched from a backroom and slid back, already clad in a brown paper bag.

Today's free MLCC samples and liqueur designed to taste like a candy bar seem like a zipline tour through Gomorrah by comparison.

So, progress right? The province needs the tax revenue and must counter the increased ease of cross-border shopping. People need to buy their groceries Sunday at 9 a.m. and cannot wait until the ungodly hour of noon. Most families have two working parents and, what with over-scheduled children and shift work, need to shop when it fits their schedule.

We can't use organized Christian religion as the reason to deny all others the chance to spend.

And yet...

What if the increased Sunday-shopping hours are a response to want and not need? What if there are more people desperate to satisfy their magpie urges for more shiny objects than there are individuals who sincerely can't wait until 12 to get pancake mix or more lumber for their half-built decks?

Local real estate experts say the mean house size in Winnipeg 25 years ago was 800 square feet. Families were bigger, with three or four children the norm. The house cost $80,000. In 2011, the mean size was 1,256 square feet and the house sold for $256,000. Family size has dropped, with two children a more common configuration. So what are we doing with all that extra space?

We're filling it with stuff. Buying and stashing possessions is so out of control that a TLC program called Storage Wars is a megahit. American writer Anna Quindlen addresses the stuff surfeit in her new book, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake.

"It wasn't always like this, was it?" she writes. "At some point in America, desire and need became untethered in our lives, and shopping became a competitive sport. I can't recall my mother spending much time spending, although of course she predated that black hole of consumption, the shopping website."

Recent Bank of Montreal stats show 41 per cent of people aged 18 to 34 expect to stop working before they turn 60. Twenty-seven per cent admitted they hadn't started putting money away for retirement.

In 2011, Canadians owed on average just under $26,000, exclusive of their mortgages.

Will lengthened store-opening hours lead Manitobans straight to debtors' prison? Of course not. Store hours are a convenience to customers and a means to increase the retailers' bottom line.

We have the right to shop when we want. But if you find yourself in an As Seen On TV store at 9:15 on a Sunday morning, you may just be shopping for want, not need.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 4, 2012 A6

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.


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