If you stay open, they might come … someday

Stores can now set their own hours, but consumers are still living by their old schedules

The time is 9:24pm. And in the Netto grocery store in the village of Brede, there isn’t a single customer. On this, the first day after the elimination of lukkeloven and the near total liberalisation of store opening hours, the customers have spoken and they have stayed at home. 

“It’s pretty much as we expected,” store manager Ronnie Brandt said as he stocked a refrigerator case with cold cuts.

Even without any customers, with half an hour until the store closes for the evening, Brandt and the two other employees working were keeping busy. 

“We’d be here this late anyway cleaning up and preparing for the next morning,” he said. “We’ll actually only be getting out of here half an hour later than when we closed at 8, so for us it doesn’t make much difference.”

A customer interrupts, asking whether there were more whole chickens left in stock. The man and his girlfriend were two of only a handful Brandt said he’d seen in the past hour. 

If the store develops a late-night clientele, Brandt expected it would be students or parents who needed to get a few items after the kids were put to bed. Both groups, he said, had other shopping options before. “Now they have more, and they can stay closer to home.”

“Here in the suburbs I don’t think people really need us to stay open so late. It’s only the first day, and it will probably take a while for customers to figure out that stores are open later.”

Passers-by Hanne Jensen and her husband had forgotten that stores would be open late from now on

At 9:36, there were three customers – including this reporter – standing in line waiting to make purchases. That was more people in the store at one time than cashier Casper Juul Lindinger had seen since the stream of customers dried up around 8pm.

“We had the customers we normally had up to our old closing time, and we’ve had a few here and there after that, but mostly it’s been like this,” he said, motioning to the empty store.

As a student who only normally works one evening a week, Lindinger said he had no problem staying later than normal. “But it does mean I probably won’t start studying until 11:30 or midnight, and I’m not sure how much I can concentrate at that time.”

The last customer of the evening to leave the store – at 9:52 – was Stine Johansen. A mother who lives within walking distance, she was on her way home from the gym when she popped in for a few impulse items “as a treat for the babysitter”.

“Normally I don’t have any need to shop this late,” Johansen said. “But if I really need rugbrød or milk I can just come over here. That’s great, since before I needed to go to a petrol station or døgnNetto [an extended hours variant of Netto] – or just do without until morning.”

Despite the convenience, she called it “sort of idiotic” that the store stayed open when there were no customers. 

“It’s not necessary. Nine o’clock would be sufficient – and maybe one evening open until 10.” 

About two minutes before closing, as manager Brandt wheeled in the outdoor displays, an elderly couple walking a dog peered uncertainly at the obviously open, but clearly empty, store.

“Oh, that’s right, I forgot,” the woman, Hanne Jensen, said.

Checking her watch, she said she found the new opening hours confusing. 

“When they had to close early, you knew when you had to be here by. But now? I can’t keep track," she said. "But, we got used to Saturday shopping, then Sunday shopping. I guess that after a while this will become normal too. Ask me next year how I feel about it though.”