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  1. Bread and Circuses

    In my part of the country there is a fairly dense population of shopping malls, all fighting over the same customers. The local newspapers bring stories about turnover records, visitor records, and most important – as it seems: Who has had the greatest growth in sales and visitor numbers. It’s about selling more. The greater the growth, the better.

    There is an unconcealed message to all of us: «Buy more!» – More groceries, more delicacies, more clothes, more cosmetics, more sports articles, and other imported goods. In these days there is a proposal from the Norwegian government to get rid of the long time regulation of Sunday shopping. That is an even stronger message to the public:

    -Hey, go out and spend your money!

    Growth in the retail trade creates a demand for more labour, like cashiers, warehouse personnel, transport workers, security guards and so on. Next, we need construction workers to build new shopping centers. To some extend, It is fair to say that growth in the retail trade keeps the wheels turning. But an unacceptably high proportion of the goods in our shopping malls are imported from other countries. It is hard to find something designed and manufactured in Norway.

    Oil and trade go hand in hand

    The most exclusive shopping malls I have ever seen, are those in the Gulf States, where consumption is financed by pumping up vaste quantities of oil. It is easy to draw parallels to Norway. Happy Arabs enjoy themselves in centers full of glitter and bling-bling. Our prime minister, Erna Solberg, will soon enjoy the glow in the eyes of happy Norwegians enjoying Sunday open malls, perhaps one of the government coalition’s greatest achievements so far, after having deregulated the use of Segways on public roads.

    I do not doubt for a second that Sunday shopping soon will be a reality.

    Sunday shopping works well elsewhere. I have idyllic images of American families – mom, dad, kids and grandparents – who waddle from the parking lot to the mall after church in their Sunday best. The shopping mall turns into a village hall on Sundays where everyone meets for Sunday lunch, socializing and shopping. It works out well. Who can be against that?

    If I had been responsible for the current government, I’d appreciate anything that would regulate consumpion a little. Just for a while, until we can see the effects of the current restructuring in the oil industry, affecting businesses all over the country. I think it is bad timing to open up for a shopping spree right now.

    Personally, I don’t care about whether the shops are open on Sundays or not. However, I do see that increased consumption – and a subsequent increase of consumer credits – these days, can amplify the financial challenges that are emerging in the wake of the low oil prices. I see no major profit increase for small franchisees and employees. I imagine that some small family-operated convenience stores will be facing tougher competition when they lose the exclusive advantage they have today, to be allowed to keep their businesses open, while others have to keep closed.

    The retail industry in Norway is controlled by a few, very large players, like ICA, Coop, Norgesgruppen, Reitan and Varner, to name a few. They have great influence, not only over the trade, but every stage. They are most likely to be the winners when Sunday shopping is deregulated. Of course, some individual stores in popular shopping malls are also likely to benefit from the deregulation. Those are already doing well today. If the consumers don’t like it, they can shop elsewhere or use the ballot on the next election.

    Consumers decide

    Today, convenience stores around major cities are open from 7 till 11. No one really needs Sunday open stores, but many have a desire to visit a shopping mall on Sundays. We’re not talking about necessity but desire. A lot of people enjoy shopping. They’d love to wear a nice outfit and stroll around in a cool mall on a Sunday afternoon to study the assortments. What’s new? What’s hot? What’s not? They’d like to make breaks for coffee and ice cream – or sushi?

    One of the nation’s newest shopping malls, Fornebu S, wants to create a community center for families in the area. This summer they have advertised for people to visit the center as an «after beach» event. There are outdoors play equipment for the youngest children to enjoy. This is the future lifestyle of young families. It will certainly force shops to open up on Sundays. It does not help what the Church, the Unions and the Environmentalists say.

    I use the words of the old Romans:

    🙂 «The people anxiously desire — bread and circuses».

    Fornebu’s newest «community center» and shopping mall.

    Plenty of opportunities to shop between 7 and 11 o’clock

    On Sundays, only small convenience stores and gas stations, like this, are allowed to keep open.

    Architecture from Fornebu S with apartment buildings above.

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