'Never on Sundays' No More

June 25, 1993

When Leggett Department Store's management decided earlier this month to open for business on Sundays, the family-owned retailer made a telling statement on the forces that now shape and shift our lives.

Over the years, the 45-store chain, with an anchor in Westminster's Cranberry Mall, resisted operating seven days a week. Its owners felt that Sunday was a day for attending church, for being with family. The tradition was in keeping with the conservative sentiments of the rural, small-town markets in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina where Leggett operates.

The merchant maintained this "Never on Sunday" tradition even after most state and local blue laws, which restricted commerce on Sundays, had been repealed or struck down by the courts. This past fall, as an experiment, 26 larger Leggett stores opened on Sundays for Christmas shopping. The chain experienced a spurt in sales and customers seemed pleased.

Robert Leggett acknowledged that the pressures of modern life dictated a change in his company's ways. "Our customers have more to do in less time," he said, "and we must be available when they are ready to shop."

Some might view the chain's change of heart as additional evidence of the decline of American civilization, but the decision should be seen as grudging acknowledgment that contemporary life is much more complicated (and consumer-oriented) than decades ago when six-day operations were the norm.

When families were led by a single bread-winner, setting aside a day sans shopping didn't inconvenience many. The United States may have been a melting pot, but lifestyles were more homogenous.

Today, families -- many headed by single parents or two wage-earners -- can't finish all their shopping on Saturday. Sunday, alas, is another day to run errands.

Many of us might yearn for simpler days when Sunday was more an island of rest and reflection, if for no other reason than fewer options existed. But at least now we do have choices. People who want to stay away from stores can. Those who want to shop can do so until they drop. We get to make our own decisions.

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