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« Time Off at the Office | Main | Swaddling Clothes »

August 06, 2006

America: Open 24/7

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards:

As I was peeling off the freeway a few days ago on my way to my fave breakfast spot, I noticed that the Wal-Mart store next to the off-ramp was sporting a new sign.

Open 24 Hours

Well, I declare!

I suppose it has to do with the fact that they recently expanded the place to add a supermarket. And serious supermarkets hereabouts are on the go 24 hours a day aside from Christmas and a couple more holidays when they are only open part of the day.

I recall being slightly shocked the first time I saw a 24-hour supermarket. That was in Las Vegas in the early 70s, though I suppose it was nothing new there.

When I was a kid back in the 40s and 50s, things were pretty much closed most evenings as well as all day Sunday. And it was even more grim in Pennsylvania as late as the 60s when, for all practical purposes, you had to cross over to New Jersey to moisten your lips with a good Pennsylvania Schmidt's, Ortlieb's or Rolling Rock.

Perhaps the greatest inconvenience was when you needed to go to the bank. Banks were open from 10 a.m. till 3 p.m., typically. Okay, workers in the city could easily do a bank run over lunch hour. But where bank branches were thinner on the ground, one often had to do some planning to pull off the task.

As for today, ... well, we all know how it is.

But is it a good thing?

Are workers being exploited? Is our society running amok, drunk on commercialism?

Or do extended shopping hours make our lives easier?

Me? I love the longer hours.

But maybe some of you don't.



posted by Donald at August 6, 2006


This syncs with the comment I read that the 1970 Dallas phonebook had no place you could order pizza delivery. We don't realize how much the economy has changed most of the time.

Posted by: Noumenon on August 6, 2006 11:32 PM

Donald, I thought you were talking about our national borders! But that's a business too, of a sort.

Posted by: s on August 6, 2006 11:58 PM

Walmart is particularly notorious for making "flextime" a benefit to itself and a nightmare for its employees. so to that end, no, this is not a good thing. It's a pitfall with large retail stores in general. Night crew employees are not to emost sociable people on earth (which is why they go to work on the night crew) so to stay open 24/7 the store pressures day shift people to come in and man the cashiers (mercifully they often only do this to one hapless clerk).

Posted by: Omri on August 7, 2006 1:13 AM

One possble explanation: Some retail stores, especially grocery stores, are remaining open 24 hours so their checkout people can double as maintenance clerks during late night hours. It's easier to do inventory, restock the shelves and mop the floors at night when there aren't as many people to disturb the work.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on August 7, 2006 8:35 AM

It's sort of funny how today banks have longer hours even as ATM's and online banking have made it less and less necessary to go to banks in person. Although some people do seem to appreciate longer hours; the New Jersey-based Commerce Bank has been expanding steadily in the Northeast under the tagline "America's most convenient bank," based in large part on its extended, 7-day-a-week hours.
As for supermarkets, the Stop & Shop chain, one of the dominant ones in the Northeast, has quietly backed off its practice of staying open 24 hours and now closes most of its stores around midnight. I believe other chains have done the same. Supermarkets do most of their shelf-restocking and cleaning during the overnight hours, and the relatively few customers who shopped during the overnight hours contributed relatively little in revenues while managing to interfere with these overnight operations.

Posted by: Peter on August 7, 2006 9:13 AM

It's a good thing, in my view. More flexibility for both workers and consumers. I'm a morning person myself and like to get as much as possible done before everyone else gets up; I assume night people feel the same way. I was thrilled recently to find a 24-hour gym and am likely to quit my current gym to join it, making it easier for me to exercise more frequently.

Posted by: Linda on August 7, 2006 9:13 AM

The fresh vegetable selection at my local supermarket is paltry at 2AM.

I am so pissed! ;^)

Posted by: ricpic on August 7, 2006 10:45 AM

Back around 1970 or 71 I remember taking a spur of the moment road trip after dinner from southern Connecticut to Freeport, Maine to visit L.L. Bean's, famous for being open 24/7 before that was a ubiquitous designation. The whole idea was, how cool it was going to be to wander the famed Bean retail/warehouse when we got there around 2 a.m. And it was! The sheer novelty of poking around the funky (in those days) catacombs of Bean's in the middle of the night & maybe getting a jackknife or Crusher hat made it an adventure.

Now that 24/7 is becoming the way of American retail not only has the magic been lost for those odd places like L.L. Bean's that did it long before it was common, but a severe strain has been placed on smaller, independent establishments who can't afford the overhead associated with 24/7 operations. Sometimes it seems that we have become so focused on fulfilling our individual consumer desires that anything that impedes our immediate gratification is seen as a personal affront.

Posted by: Chris White on August 7, 2006 3:48 PM

I became spoiled in America: while on vacation in Portugal, I was outraged by the fact that 80% of the retail establishments were closed after 6pm. Even the pharmacies/drugstores were closed (except those few formally "on duty"), and very rarely anything was open for business on Sunday.
Add to it 2-hr lunch (when stores's doors are also closed), and you will reconsider popular American notion of "European service".

Posted by: Tat on August 7, 2006 3:53 PM

To me, this relates to your previous article on living near where you work and the greater issue of urban sprawl; which in my own life is underscored by the differences between my life in Manhattan and my life in a southern "McCity" that's essentially a suburb wrapped around a slum (with a few pockets of more pedestrian-friendly buffer zones that are almost like real neighborhoods). I recall one night walking to the subway from a fencing class in Greenwich Village
that had run a little late. I remembered that I had run out of mouthwash for the next day, and had planned on stopping in at the supermarket in my neighborhood (Hell's Kitchen) on my way home and picking up some Listerine, although in those days I was partial to Tom's of Maine Natural Mouthwash. Now, however, the supermarket in my neighborhood would be closed, as were all the health food stores where I might be able to pick up a bottle of Tom's. However, just before I got to the subway station, there was a Korean greengrocer's open until midnight, and lo, there was Tom's Natural Mouthwash in the window! I thought: So this is what people mean when they say you can get anything in NYC anytime! This might seem an insignificant little incident except to me (especially when I found myself marooned in McCity) it captured "the microcosm within the macrocosm." (You metaphysically-minded people out there will know what I mean.) Convenience seems a petty ideal: except when it's gone, and then you realize how much having everything--or nearly everything--at hand whenever you need it frees up significant time and energy spent on necessary but trivial things, so that they can be spent on the things that are really important in one's life. To be fair, with more people deserting the suburbs for in-town living, even Atlanta is getting more urbanized, and the arrival of more big-chain supermarkets and drug stores, with their expanded hours,
have brought more of a quasi-Manhattan-like convenience to in-town Atlanta than there was when I first came here. Even some banks are open on Saturday, or have branches in supermarkets that are open on Saturday and evenings. Now if someone could only persuade the USPS to keep post offices open when people with jobs would be able to get to them. . . .

Posted by: Bilwick on August 7, 2006 4:26 PM

I love it when stores are open 24 hours. Truly, that is part of what makes New York New York.

Contrast this with London. I was in London one Christmas when literally nothing was open except a few Indian restaurants. No public transportation--no taxis--no MOVIES!

The next day--Boxing Day--hardly anything was open either. The agony!

What do the inhabitants do?

Posted by: Miriam on August 8, 2006 12:30 PM

The supermarkets in England open 24/6: on Sunday, only 10:00 till 4:00. Scotland is more liberal.

Posted by: dearieme on August 8, 2006 12:57 PM

Of course, this reminds me of the classic Steven Wright bit, which I will paraphrase:

So I saw a convenience store with a sign out front that read, "Open 24 hours." I needed some milk, so I went up to the door, but it was locked. I saw the owner inside and he said, "we're closed." "But your sign says 'Open 24 hours.'" He said, "Yeah, but not in a row."

Posted by: the patriarch on August 8, 2006 3:30 PM

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