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Germany marks year of longer shopping hours: Customers happy

October 31, 1997

BERLIN (AP) _ For Germans, it was a retail revolution.

A year ago, the government started letting stores stay open 1 1/2 to 2 hours longer, until 8 p.m. on weekdays and 4 p.m. on Saturdays.

Retail labor unions and store owners deemed the plan disastrous before it even started, and some remain skeptical today.

But customers seem happy. According to recent consumer polls, about 75 percent of customers are pleased after the first year of longer hours.

``Before, I had to leave work in the middle of the afternoon just to go shopping,″ said Marek Musial, a university worker who was loading beer bottles and vegetables into a backpack after a 7:30 p.m. trip to Kaisers grocery store in Berlin. ``This is just so much easier.″

Staying open late isn’t mandatory. Some stores, such as Kaisers, stay open until 8 p.m. only on Thursdays and Fridays. Many shops in suburbs and smaller cities experimented with longer hours only to return to the old schedule.

Allowing longer store hours was a dramatic break with tradition for Germany. Chancellor Helmut Kohl sold the law by saying it would help create badly needed jobs. Parliament approved it with the condition that it be reviewed after three years.

Retailers say they’ll need at least that long to tell if the extra hours are having any of their promised benefits, from more jobs to more sales.

``We are only now beginning to adjust,″ Bernd Rueckert, president of the Berlin Retailers Association, told a news conference Friday. So far, he said, only 11 percent of retailers in Berlin have hired extra employees to keep up with the new hours.

Germany’s unemployment, at 11.2 percent in September, is still near a postwar high. Labor unions say longer store hours have done nothing to help joblessness and have only added to workers’ stress.

``Despite the longer store hours, unemployment continues to get worse,″ said Hermann Franzen, president of the trade union HBV.

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