The Tel Aviv Municipality summoned the owners of 21 grocery store branches and kiosks on Wednesday to a Thursday morning court session, where they are expected to receive orders to close on Saturdays.
Wednesday’s summons was the latest step in a saga of legal issues that has threatened to prevent the roughly 300 kiosk and grocery store chains that open their doors on Shabbat in largely secular Tel Aviv from doing so.
In June 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that Tel Aviv was not properly enforcing its bylaws, which prohibit stores from opening on Shabbat. Many stores, especially chains such as AM:PM, Tiv Taam and Super Yuda, simply swallowed the city’s NIS 730 fine for defying the law, finding it more profitable to stay open.
A union of small business owners initiated the case against Tel Aviv, arguing that by failing to implement its laws properly, the city was giving an unfair advantage to large chains that could absorb the fines.
In response, Tel Aviv issued a new bylaw on the issue, but Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar rejected it last month, saying it was not specific enough.
This week, the city council approved an updated bylaw that would allow 164 stores (or branches) to remain open, based on lottery drawings and specific neighborhood quotas.
The municipality said that the number was based on its calculations of how much demand there was among the city’s residents on Saturdays, even though the current number of stores that remain open through the weekend is nearly double that.
Sa’ar has 60 days to approve the latest bylaw, but until he does, the municipality must enforce the laws on the book based on the Supreme Court’s ruling.
The 21 stores being called to close had been caught operating on Saturday after already receiving fines three times.
The small business union had accused the municipality of dragging its feet on the store closure issue, especially as most Israelis focused their attention recently on Operation Protective Edge and the Hamas rocket fire from Gaza.
A municipality spokeswoman said that the city’s inspectors may have been less vigilant about fining stores, as they had been busy with keeping shelters open and dealing with the city’s security needs during the operation. The number of parking tickets the city handed out dropped as well, she noted.
A spokeswoman for Sa’ar did not respond to inquiries from The Jerusalem Post regarding when he intends to make a decision on the bylaw. If he does approve it, stores ordered to close will only be able to reopen if they apply for one of the 164 permits to operate on Shabbat.