Unexpected visitors on a Sunday? Quickly to the store!

Unexpected visitors on a Sunday? Don’t worry, there is always a supermarket or a pastry shop nearby open to quickly get something tasty. Or not? Not every municipality allows shops to be open on Sunday (evening). Fortunately, municipalities are becoming increasingly creative in meeting the wishes of retailers and consumers. An explanation.

The Shopping Hours Act stipulates that only one exemption per 15,000 inhabitants can be granted for a so-called ‘Sunday evening shop’. Shops that have such an exemption may not open their doors until 4 p.m. on Sundays and public holidays. Even on regular shopping Sundays, determined by the municipality, the doors may not be opened earlier than 4 p.m.

However, the distribution of these exemptions is not equally smooth in every municipality. Shopkeepers regularly make more applications than the municipality can allow under the Shopping Hours Act. Moreover, not every municipality is prepared to bring the policy into line with the wishes of the retailers with regard to Sunday shopping and Sunday evening opening times. In such cases, the willingness to grant exemptions, or the lack thereof, is the result of (municipal) political considerations.

In order to ensure that exemptions are distributed fairly, most municipalities now have a shopping hours regulation, which – if all goes well – describes how many Sunday shopping days are determined and how people can or cannot qualify for a Sunday evening exemption. Municipalities are free to determine the number of shopping Sundays (evenings) themselves, so it is possible that not every municipality has the same policy or number of shopping Sundays. For example, one municipality opts for a rotation system in which various supermarkets receive temporary exemption, each for a separate period, and another municipality opts for a distribution in order of application. Also not uncommon is a so-called ‘weighted lottery’.
Although VNO NCW has published a guide to this end, there are still municipalities that have difficulty “colouring” (new) policy. A transition of policy must be properly communicated with the retailers, as well as the consequences for their exemption and/or application for it must be indicated. It is also important that it is clear on what grounds an exemption is or is not granted. After all, in the event of ambiguity, shopkeepers may experience things as unjust and therefore regular objections and appeals follow in the hope of turning the tide.

The municipality of Steenbergen illustrates that things can still be done differently with its decision dated 21 December 2011, which was published on 22 December 2011, in which it ratified a rotation system that it had designed itself between retailers. Initially, the municipality had granted an exemption to one supermarket retailer, but another believed that it should have obtained it. An objection and a provisional procedure followed, but both shopkeepers were clear: we both want to open. In order to create clarity and to prevent further costly legal proceedings, both retailers have jointly devised a schedule on which they can be open on shopping Sunday (evening) and “alternately”. Of course, the rotation system is not entirely new, but the circumstance that the municipality has given the shopkeepers a completely free hand, on the understanding that it was prepared to take a new decision – albeit with the withdrawal of the previously granted exemption -, but or a decision that was borne by the shopkeepers.

It can therefore also be done differently: in the absence of policy, in the case of unclear policy and in the event of resistance to the current policy, it may be useful to let the shopkeepers who want to open their doors on Sunday evening make their own proposal. Very easy.

The entire decision can be read on the web page of the municipality of Steenbergen via the following web link:

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