'Shabbat shopping hurts small merchants'

Survey claims smaller businesses can't compete with big centers.

malha mall 88 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
malha mall 88 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Nearly four out of five small business owners believe that opening out-of-town shopping centers on Shabbat causes them financial damage, according to a survey carried out by the Authority for Small and Medium-sized Businesses. "Small businesses find themselves in an impossible situation. They are unable to compete with the means and resources available to the big shopping centers, who can afford employing workers on [Shabbat] shifts," said the authority's deputy director-general, Lilach Nehemia. "Opening small businesses during Shabbat in order to meet the competition will lead to slavery among small businesses," she added, arguing that the move would force small business owners to keep their limited staff on the job "seven days a week without rest." "On the other hand, the moment that they do not open their businesses on Shabbat, they lose many customers that prefer to carry out their shopping on their free day," Nehemia said. The survey of 398 small business owners indicated that 43.6 percent believed that opening out-of-town shopping centers on Shabbat caused "great damage" to small businesses; 19.1% believed that it caused moderate damage; and 11.4% believed that it caused some damage. Another 18.8% said that opening the shopping centers on Shabbat did not cause small businesses any damage, while 7.1% had no opinion on the matter. The authority reported further that 55% of the respondents thought that the trend of opening out-of-town shopping centers on Shabbat would not influence opening times in Israeli city centers. In contrast, 23.2% of the respondents believed that more small businesses downtown would open on Shabbat as a result, while 12.6% thought that the trend would lead less small businesses downtown open on the sabbath. The remaining 9.3% would not hazard a guess. In contrast with small merchants, Israel's association representing small manufacturers said it was "unequivocally in favor" of shops being open on Shabbat, since it actually induces additional consumer demand. "What is not sold on Shabbat will also not be sold on the other days of the week," explained Israel Craftsmen's Association President Yehuda Alhadef. As a leisure activity in which whole families often take part, additional purchases are made that would not otherwise take place on a work day, he said. The Histadrut labor union said that "as long as all proper arrangements are in place, we have no problem with [employing workers in stores on Shabbat]," stressing that the primary problem from the union's point of view is the lack of enforcement of labor laws every day of the week, not just on Shabbat. Workers employed on Shabbat are entitled to a higher rate of pay, the Histadrut spokesman reminded. Neither the Manufacturers Association of Israel and the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce would take a stand for or against Shabbat shopping. Separately, the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry rejected hints in the Hebrew press that Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) recently "resurrected" patrols of "Druze inspectors" charged with the task of handing out fines against shopping centers and shops open on Shabbat, insisting that such patrols were never interrupted in the f irst place. "There are always [patrols] and there were always [patrols]," a ministry spokeswoman said.