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Germany Extends Shopping Hours _ But Don’t Expect Service With a Smile

November 1, 1996

BERLIN (AP) _ When Germany announced it would extend shopping hours past 6:30 p.m., retail labor unions made it sound like the social fabric of the nation was unraveling.

Store employees won’t be able to eat dinner with their children. Clerks will have to go home after dark. And all for naught, since stores probably won’t make more money.

But German shoppers _ tired of racing from work only to find the butcher cleaning up with one eye on the clock _ welcomed the news. And on Friday night, the start of the extended hours, they flooded stores around the country, relaxing as they picked up dinner or savored the new experience of after-work browsing.

Even critics couldn’t resist.

Herbert Mai, a representative of one of Germany’s powerful retail unions, was seen buying a watch at a Frankfurt department store at 7:10 p.m.

Keeping stores open until 8 p.m. weekdays and 4 p.m. Saturdays _ an extra 1 1/2-2 hours _ amounts to something of a cultural revolution in Germany, where unions usually rule and the customer comes last.

``I won’t have to drive to a gas station to get bread or milk I forgot to buy earlier,″ said David Pekau, checking out television sets at Hertie department store in Berlin.

Tobias Schweizer, a bartender, said he no longer has to get up early to shop after a late night working.

Although Chancellor Helmut Kohl sold the longer hours as a job-creating boon, most retailers aren’t hiring anyone new _ at least until they see whether the extended hours pay off.

At KadeWe, Berlin’s largest department store, personnel manager Ulf Willecke disputed critics who predict that stores won’t sell more _ for years, longer hours on Thursdays and occasional Saturdays have shown that if stores stay open, shoppers will come.

On Friday, KadeWe estimated that 20 percent of the day’s sales were between 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.

But if customers were content, some store clerks were not.

Jana Meinhold, of KadeWe’s women clothing’s department, griped that by the time she gets home, ``there won’t be much time left for a big family or private life.″

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