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. Caf├ęs 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.