Business leaders choose faith over Sunday shopping

“From a faith-based point of view, it’s the right thing to do, so we did it.”

Ave Spratt remembers a time when all businesses were closed on Sundays.

“Sundays have always been special and very much the Lord’s Day. Being open on a Sunday was never even really a consideration,” said Spratt, a devout Catholic and an owner of Edmonton equipment dealers Martin Deerline and Martin Motor Sports.

“Keeping holy the Sabbath has been fantastic for Volvo of Edmonton,” adds Mike Norris, a co-owner of the southside car dealership and a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish.

Ave Spratt, owner of Edmonton equipment dealers Martin Deerline and Martin Motor Sports, closes shop on Sundays.Thandiwe Konguave/Grandin Media

“The culture is better, sales are better, and customer satisfaction is higher. It’s been interesting because we’re busier with the day closed. The Lord moves in mysterious ways.”

Sunday shopping has been the norm in Canada since 1985, when the Supreme Court struck down the federal Lord’s Day Act, which made it illegal. In Alberta, municipalities set their own rules and Edmonton has never had any restrictions on Sunday shopping.

Still, there are businesses that choose to keep their doors closed, despite mounting pressure and the loss of potential sales. The sacrifice, business owners say, is worth it.

Sunday shopping was never really an issue for Martin Deerline and Martin Motor Sports until the early 2000s, when more and more large retailers were opening for business and the pressure intensified.

Manufacturers showed Spratt retail numbers from his competitors showing that he was losing sales on Sundays, but the company didn’t budge.

“We had to stand tall,” said Spratt.

Despite being closed on Sundays – except for equipment emergencies – Martin Deerline and Martin Motor Sports have managed to maintain a good market share against their competitors, Spratt said.

A decade ago, Volvo of Edmonton would sell one to three cars on any given Sunday. When Norris took ownership, he wanted to close on Sundays but was advised against it by his own sales manager.

Two years ago, Norris overruled the manager, and the dealership has been closed on Sundays ever since.

“I just thought it was the right thing to do,” Norris said.

“From a faith-based point of view, it’s the right thing to do, so we did it.”

However, there were some critics.

“In our business, I think you always feel like there’s a missed opportunity,” said Curtis Faulkner, the new vehicle sales manager at Volvo of Edmonton. “When we were open Sundays, all the other dealerships next to us were open.”

After Volvo closed on Sundays, at least one neighbouring high-end car dealership followed suit.

Over time, all the Volvo of Edmonton employees – including Faulkner – were also on board.

“I hated working Sundays. It feels like you never get a break,” said Faulkner.

Under the Canadian Human Rights Act, employees have a right not to work on Sundays for religious reasons, and employers have a duty to accommodate them, said Peter Frost, president of Local 1118 of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

“If someone can show that they are a part of a worship that’s on Sunday and that they participate on an ongoing basis, then we would meet with the employer and try to work out an accommodation so that person would not be required to work on Sunday,” he said.

Working on Sundays hasn’t been a major concern for the members of Frost’s union local – who are employed primarily in the agricultural industry – but that may change as consumer demands increase.

“I see the potential of that, more in regards to having a fresh product available to the retailer,” Frost said.

On Sundays, Spratt spends his time serving as a Eucharistic minister at Holy Trinity Parish in Spruce Grove, and at the lake with his eight children riding their all-terrain vehicles, boating, skating or playing hockey.

Spratt hopes that the 400 to 500 employees of Martin Deerline and Martin Motor Sports are also spending time with loved ones.

“For us, it’s about getting family together and keeping it together,” he said.

Spratt said he’s taught his children the importance of attending Mass on Sundays and spending time with family, but there is no guarantee that the next generation of company owners will share the same values.

“I can’t guarantee that in the year 2067 the place won’t be open on Sundays, but I’d be really disappointed if it is.”