By Sharon DelVento
By Sharon DelVento

   Lyle and Sue Luzum’s June 23 letter to the editor stated their opinion that Decorah’s downtown businesses should be open on Sundays.

I should mention that I am not a store owner; but I don’t think that the Luzums are, either.

When I moved here 21 years ago, I showed up on a Saturday in August, and I figured that I would get my groceries the following day. When I went down to stock my pantry, Fareway – at that time situated where the Oneota Food Co-op is now – was closed. Coming from Chicago as I did, I was stunned. A grocery store, closed? On Sunday? After I stopped double-checking the doors and thought about it a moment, I smiled. “Good for you!” I thought.

The fact that store owners would take a day off for themselves impressed me enormously, and it did not matter to me whether they were actively endeavoring to keep holy the Sabbath or just sacking in and catching a few extra “Z’s.”

The 24/7 culture – or cult –  is like a disease that afflicts our society in so many ways: the disease of “non-stop.” Non-stop commercials, non-stop shopping, non-stop spam, non-stop robo-calls, non-stop texting, non-stop newsfeeds. I say: Stop. It is OK to stop and spend time with your family. There is more to life than chasing a buck or the latest deal. Unless you are in danger of losing your home, or of starving yourself and your children, life is too short to work 24/7.

Most small-business owners don’t have the luxury of drawing on eight or nine different part-timers who work the weekends on a rotational basis (and who take their “Sabbaths” on Tuesdays or Wednesdays), the way the tourist-dependent organizations do.

I think the shops being closed on Sundays is a mark of “small-town-ness” that I hope Decorah never loses. Everybody deserves a break. If shop owners can’t compete with the malls anyway, why should they lose their Sundays in the bargain (a devil’s bargain if there ever was one) as well?

Family is more important than anything else, and it may be that closing on Sundays and having family time and/or “down” time helps store owners be that much kinder the other six days of the week.

It’s not that I don’t care about the tourists, but as the Luzums pointed out, Decorah is not primarily a tourist town. It is a functional small town with industries of its own, a private (Lutheran) college, and more retired pastors than you can shake a stick at, so I doubt that any of the locals particularly mind the shops being closed of a Sunday.

If I were a tourist who was interested in a place, I would call or check the website to see what the various businesses’ hours were before I went. When I lived in Chicago and worked full-time, if I visited a place, I usually left before noon on Sundays because I wanted to get home before dark, before the post-holiday traffic crush, and with enough time to do some things at home and relax before going to bed and getting up at 6 a.m. Monday morning.

Rest. It is one of the most essential, underrated things in life.

“When we live without listening to the timing of things – when we live and work in 24-hour shifts without rest – we are on war-time, mobilized for battle. Yes, we are strong and capable people, we can work without stopping, faster and faster, electric lights making artificial day so the whole machine can labor without ceasing. But remember: No living thing lives like this.” (Wayne Muller, The Sabbath).

There is a reason that the concept of the Sabbath has lasted so long. Just because there aren’t as many people nowadays who “self-identify” as church/temple/synagogue/mosque-goers doesn’t mean that the concept of a Sabbath should be tossed out the window.

Shop owners have lives too. They are not automatons. If the fact that a business is closed on Sunday forces you to sit back on your heels for a moment and reprioritize your day – or re-evaluate your life – so be it. That is as it should be. As far as I am concerned, those “closed” signs serve as a very pointed sermon and might make visitors think twice about their own 24/7 lives. The “one big store” that the Luzums mention can take their 24/7 and – enjoy it.

As Mary Engelbreit said, beneath her cartoon of a person leaning back in a chair, dressed in denim overalls, with a straw hat on her head, with bare feet propped up on a desk, a piece of typing paper inserted into a manual typewriter, and a long piece of grass-stem in her mouth: “We don’t care how they do it in New York.”

Or in the malls either, I might add.


P.S.  The Luzums’ line about four hours on Sunday being equivalent to three extra hours on a day when you’re already at work misses a few points. There’s a huge difference between having a whole day to yourself and having snatches of one bracketing your work at either end, not only in terms of the level of relaxation, not only because it’s more likely that the rest of the family is available on Sundays rather than on Thursday nights, but also because once you figure in the wages and electricity and time, maybe being open Sundays simply isn’t worth it. Maybe some of the store owners tried it before and no customers came. Did anyone ask them?