The City of Toronto is conducting an online survey to determine if the public wants retail stores to open on holidays such as Christmas Day and Easter Sunday. CNS photo/Mike Theiler, Reuters

Survey seeks input on desire for Christmas, Easter store openings

  • January 10, 2012

TORONTO - The City of Toronto is conducting an online survey to determine if the public wants retail stores to open on holidays such as Christmas Day and Easter Sunday.

This retail holiday shopping consultation is the result of a May 2010 report recommending that City Council allow all retail stores to remain open or closed at the discretion of the store owner or manager. 

“We’ve had a number of residents, retailers and businesses who have said in certain areas of the city… the holiday shopping is allowed and what they have indicated to the city is they don’t think it’s fair that in certain areas of the city the city allows it, but not in other areas,” said Councillor Michael Thompson, chair of Toronto’s Economic Development Committee.

At present, the city’s holiday shopping bylaw generally requires retail stores to be closed on public holidays including Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, New Year’s Day, Family Day, Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labour Day and Thanksgiving Day.

But there are exemptions. There are five tourist areas in Toronto that are legally allowed to remain open on retail holidays: Queen’s Quay West, the Toronto Eaton Centre and the Hudson’s Bay Company, the Downtown Yonge Street Business Improvement Area, the Bloor-Yorkville Business Improvement Area and the Distillery Historic District.

In addition, stores of a certain type and size are allowed to remain open, including gas stations, laundromats, pharmacies with less than 7,500 square feet of space and retail businesses less than 2,400 square feet that sell “foodstuff, tobacco, antiques, handicrafts, fruit and vegetables, books, magazines or newspapers and art.”

The current regulations were adopted in 2006 but City Council is now looking to develop a long-term policy.

The survey asks respondents to indicate on which holidays retailers should be permitted to open and on which days they should remain closed. It also asks whether or not they are in favour of allowing retailers — outside of the five designated tourist areas — to open city-wide.

“So as the city is required to do in terms of responding to concerns and/or matters that are raised by the public, this is a process we have in place to look into this particular matter,” said Thompson.

The results of the survey will be summarized in a written report to the city’s Economic Development Committee in the spring.

“This will actually form the basis in which the committee will form its decision and council will eventually make its decision as to whether or not to provide other opportunities for retailers in other areas of the city to allow for shopping on holidays.”

Neil MacCarthy, director of communications for the archdiocese of Toronto, said the survey is a great opportunity for people to be able to share their concerns about having stores open on important religious holidays.

“And certainly, we could all use a break from the consumer culture that has developed,” said MacCarthy.

“The real unfortunate thing is people have a choice as to whether or not they want to shop on those days, but many employees may feel pressured to have to work on those days,” he said. “And more and more, if they express concerns because of their religious beliefs, we’ve seen cases where those may be dismissed or put aside and that’s a real concern.”

For Councillor Joe Mihevc, the issue would have been very simple 20 years ago.

“The answer would have been no,” he said. “No to permitting shopping on Christmas, Easter, Good Friday from the Christian holiday point of view.”

However, Toronto has become a very different city in the ensuing years and there are significant communities with Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim backgrounds, he said.

“Do we need common pause days? Yes, we do. Should they be tied to religious holidays? Globally, perhaps not. Individually, perhaps yes,” said Mihevc, who holds a PhD in Theology from Toronto’s University of St. Michael’s College.

“We might need to find a way to balance individual rights for people’s holy days with a general allowance for stores to be open without requiring people of a particular faith background to work on those days.”

Thompson expects the issue will go before council in September.

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