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Strict Sunday shopping rules may soon end in Miramichi | CBC News

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Business is brisk on the weekends at Emily Field’s specialty cheese shop in Miramichi, as customers flow through the doors to buy thick slices of aged cheddar and blocks of gouda. 

“That is the time when people get out and go shopping,” she said.

But on Sundays the store stays shuttered until noon — because it’s against Miramichi’s municipal bylaw that limits shopping hours to between noon and 5 p.m.

“If people had a little bit more time to shop on the weekends, I think it would be great for business and great for the community in general,” Field said. 

Miramichi is now considering modifying its Sunday shopping bylaw, allowing business owners to set their own hours, after a request from the Retail Council of Canada.

While the province’s largest cities repealed restrictions more than a decade ago, Miramichi officials have kept the restrictive bylaw in place.

Jim Cormier, Atlantic director of government relations for the Retail Council of Canada, said Miramichi is the last community in New Brunswick to maintain Sunday shopping restrictions. (Preston Mulligan/CBC)

Under New Brunswick’s Days of Rest Act, all retailers, with few exceptions, must be closed on Sundays but the legislation leaves it up to municipalities to create their own Sunday shopping rules.

Last hold out 

Sunday shopping bans were once standard across Canada, but most restrictions have been dropped or loosened in response to public pressure.

Jim Cormier, Atlantic director of government relations for the Retail Council of Canada, said Miramichi was one of three municipalities, along with Woodstock and Sackville, that opted to maintain restrictions to Sunday hours over the past decade. The northern city of about 17,000 is now the last remaining hold out.

“They are the only spot in all of New Brunswick that still tries to dictate to retailers the hours that councillors feel work best for retailers’ business,” he said.

WATCH | ‘It doesn’t mean that retailers are open. It means they have the choice’:

Miramichi still restricts when you can shop on Sundays. Will the by-law change?

The northern city is the last community in the province to maintain restrictions on Sunday shopping hours. The municipality is now gathering public input after a request from the Retail Council of Canada to change its bylaw.  

Cormier said businesses need flexibility, especially in an environment where they’re competing against online shopping. 

“It doesn’t mean that retailers are open. It just means they have the choice to choose those hours that work best for their business,” he said.

Previous attempt ‘did not go over well’

At a meeting on May 7, Miramichi city councillors discussed the request from the retail council. They asked for additional feedback from the public before considering amending the bylaw.

City manager Mike Noel said when the rule was looked at in 2005, he recalls employees “weren’t very fond” of it and didn’t want to work on Sundays. 

“The last time this bylaw came before council, there was plenty of reaction from the retail workers who are clearly impacted by this,” he said.

Councillor Tara Ross-Robinson also remembers the attempt to modify the bylaw being controversial. She said the city needs to collect more public input this time.

Hours on door window showing it is open from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday
Miramichi’s shopping bylaw applies to retailers large and small, limited operating hours to noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC)

“It did not go over well in the community,” she said.

“The shoppers wanted it, but the workers didn’t.”

‘A bit of a culture shock’

Miramichi is an economic hub in the province’s north, with a number of large supermarkets and box stores serving outlying rural communities. 

The area’s regional chamber of commerce is backing the proposed bylaw change, raising concerns the limited Sunday hours might be steering shoppers to travel to Moncton or Bathurst instead.

Tiffany Gallivan at desk with computer
Tiffany Gallivan, president of the Newcastle Business District, said the ability to extend business hours would be beneficial during the short summer tourist season. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC)

Tiffany Gallivan, president of the Newcastle Business District, said some of the small local businesses she represents could benefit from the flexibility. She said the city has seen a large number of people move to Miramichi recently, who expect more standard business hours.

“I think it’s a bit of a culture shock,” she said of new visitors and residents.

“I think our community has hung onto different values and keeping that small-town charm has been important to our identity.”

Gallivan, who owns a tourist-oriented shop, said the summer months are extremely limited and opening up late means lost business.

“Some of our festivals can bring [up to] 5,000 people in on a Sunday into our downtown core, so opening on a Sunday would really benefit us,” she said.

‘A nice change’

At the Cheese District, in Miramichi’s Chatham business district, hours printed on the glass door lets customers know it opens from from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. 

Field hopes to soon be able to expand those hours. 

After moving to Miramichi from Ontario, she was surprised that she couldn’t go buy groceries until noon on Sundays.

“Not everybody has the privilege to be able to go shopping during the weekday, so it’s nice to be able to have a little bit of different hours to allow people to come in after work,” she said.

“It would be a nice change and a little bit of an update.”

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