A quarter of a century ago, Germany broke with long-standing retailing conventions.
From October 5, 1989, stores in Europe’s largest economy were allowed to keep their doors open until 8:30 p.m on Thursdays. Consumers suddenly had two additional hours to shop, and inner cities suddenly filled up on “Long Thursday” each week. It was a historic day celebrated across the country. For more than three decades, thanks to Germany’s restrictive shop closing law that dated from 1956, retailers had been forced to close by 6:30pm at the latest.
At the time, critics saw long Thursdays as the first step on a slippery path to the complete liberalization of opening times. Today, we know they were right. The longer workday would determine the rhythm not only of the retail sector, but of banks and government offices as well.
Workers’ councils and trade unionists fought hard against longer working hours, which in their opinion, only served to “make life easier for a couple of yuppies.” They argued hundreds of thousands of employees should not be forced to work late into the night. The center-left Social Democrats soon joined in efforts to block longer shopping hours solely for the benefit of consumers. Even members of the conservative Christian Democrats stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the alliance against longer hours. While one of the parties didn’t want employees to have to work longer, the other didn’t want firms to pay higher labor costs. And for those not otherwise convinced, the issue became a matter of protecting the German middle class, particularly in the suburbs and outlying areas.
The actual revolution, however, was yet to come.