When Harrie Met Utrecht

Sunday Morning
There’s an interesting debate taking place in Utrecht these days over whether the stores should be open on Sundays every week, instead of just the first Sunday of the month (koopzondag) as they are now. Depending on your position in the debate, you’re either a Harrie (pro-Sunday shopping) or Geen Harrie(anti-Sunday shopping). I have yet to figure out where the Harrie name came from; is it a random name given to the cartoon character in favour of shopping or does it have some additional meaning that is simply lost in translation for me.

Regardless, there are more and more fliers, tweets, articles, and discussions about the topic throughout the city these days. Certainly, in some of the winkelen (shops), you’ll see pro Harrie leaflets. But I’m seeing more and more activity on the Geen Harrie (Ik ben geen Harrie/I’m no Harrie) side, even from some shops. There are certainly arguments to be made on both sides. There was a referendum on the subject in 2005, and obviously the pro-shopping camp lost. I’m unclear as to the final showdown date this time around.

I do appreciate having the grocery stores open on Sundays now. They seem to have gotten past the shopping restrictions, which have slowly eased for grocery stores since I moved here. I believe they’ve been able to be open every Sunday since the beginning of the year, and at a more convenient time than 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. as some of them had been last year. Food is a necessity, so I think it’s reasonable for the grocery stores to be open if they so choose.

When I first learned about the possibility that stores would be able to open for business on Sundays, my first reaction was in favour of the idea. I admit I’m used to the convenience. However, as I’ve thought about it more and more, I think that now ik ben geen Harrie. I like having that one day of peace and quiet in the city when it’s not too crowded. You can wander around and enjoy the city. I love taking Pippo out for the Sunday morning walks before there are too many people out and about and too many distractions. You get time to pause and ponder.

It’s not as if the city remains a ghost town on Sundays. Cafés and restaurants still open and by noon, you start to see more and more people out and about. We do also have the first Sunday of the month (koopzondag) when the stores are open, so it’s not as if people never have the opportunity to shop on Sundays. I do understand that having the shops open on Sunday would make life more convenient for people at work throughout the week. After all, most shops close fairly early during the week, except for Thursday evenings. Yet I still can’t help but think that it’s nice to have one day a week when there’s less pressure to buy buy buy.

Of the four major cities of the Netherlands — Amsterdam, Den Haag, Rotterdam and Utrecht — Utrecht is the only one that doesn’t allow shopping every Sunday. If people are determined to go shopping, then I’m sure they will go to those cities and yes, it can be a financial loss for Utrecht. I do understand the financial ramifications. But I know that once stores start opening on Sundays, they’ll start opening earlier and earlier, and then they’ll stay open later and later, and eventually you’ll have the insane 24/7/365 shopping of the US, and I’m just not sure that’s a good thing. Convenient? Yes. Good? I’m really not sure.

11 thoughts on “When Harrie Met Utrecht

  1. Really interesting – be intriguing to find out the harrie came from!!

    Restrictions in the Uk have eased a lot – hard to find cities that don’t have major swatches of shops open all week round.
    At first, like you, I thought it was great/a life saver/novel… but now it feels like there is no end to the week, and it just drags its weary ass ever on.

    I do suspect it moves us ten moves closer to Dickensian times. It’s all a cunning plot to enchain the working people in relentless drudgery so they won’t have time/energy to think, and certain somebodies will do very well out of it, thank you.

    • When I first moved here, it was a bit frustrating that the shopping hours/days were so restricted, but I soon learned how to plan — and I do still appreciate the grocery stores being allowed to open. I appreciate it all now. I remember when stores didn’t open until after noon on Sundays in the US. That soon changed and they started opening normal times. Everyone’s open constantly, and yes, it does seem like only certain somebodies truly benefit from it all.

  2. Harrie is just a fictional character. The shops that will benefit from being open on Sunday are the big stores like H&M, Kruidvat, HEMA etc. Not the little store owner who cannot afford to pay someone double time because it’s Sunday. It’s David vs Goliath. I don’t like shopping and thanks to the Internet I get my stuff online. Sorry Harrie.

    • Having grown up seeing more and more smaller shops disappear as whole swathes of the big-box giants take over, it really is sad to see. I do think that keeping some of the more individual stores operating makes the city more interesting. I’ve seen too many disappear already.

  3. I’m not a Harrie either. Yes sometimes I wish I could go out and shop on a Sunday, but is it really necessary? There’s Saturdays and koopavonden on Thursdays when shops will be open untill 9pm. Isn’t that enough? I too like the quietness of the city centre on Sundays, and I’m sure the local residents enjoy that one quiet day in the week as well. And I think of the little shops as well, they won’t be able to keep up with the 24/7 economy and will loose even more profits to the big stores on the highstreet. I voted no in the referendum, and I will again. Not from a Christian point of view, but to help the little shops that give the city it’s charm. Just one day of relative peace and quiet and a little break from consumerism is not too much to ask for I think.

    • You summed it up much better than I did! 🙂

      If that keeps Utrecht behind the other three cities, well, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. We are a much different city compared to the others. Amsterdam is pure tourists and as much as I think people should visit places other than A’dam, I don’t want us to become overrun with tourists. Den Haag has all the international/political stuff going on, plus it’s simply bigger. Rotterdam is newer and more industrial and bigger. We should embrace our smaller, historic nature.

  4. It just gives your human friends another excuse not to plan there time. They can close everything except the store my human gets my treats from.

  5. I found myself grumbling about the darn provincialism of CVS Pharmacy, because they close at 6 pm on Sundays. I definitely like the convenience, but I had never thought of your argument. You’re right, it’s nice to have the city be quiet for a while every week, especially when you’re a photographer.
    When I lived in Holland, the stores closing at 6 was also good for my fitness. I got out of work at 5, and then cycled home as fast as I could, so I could shop (on foot). Ah, cycling…

  6. Personally I don’t mind the supermarkets being open on Sundays, food is after all essential, nothing more frustrating when you’re stuck in traffic and don’t have enough time to buy groceries. At least that is part of the past. But all the other stores? Yeah, once a month would work for me too. Alas Haarlem has fallen for the 7-day openings now too.

    I’ve always enjoyed the Sunday calm, the one true day of the week where you could just putter around as there was only so much to do.

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