Published: Monday, September 7, 2009
A half hour after closing time for most businesses, Danny Vaughn is opening his shop.
Two years ago, Vaughn opened House of Heroes, a comic book store on Mobile Street in downtown Florence. Instead of the regular 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. of many nearby retailers, Vaughn opens from 5:30-9 p.m. most days.
"Most folks who have money have jobs," Vaughn said on a recent Wednesday - the day of the week when new comics are released. Some of these workers are customers who cannot shop until they get off from work.
Vaughn is bucking the trend of neighboring business owners, who can trace their store hours to the 19th century.
The 1880s not only produced the Labor Day holiday, the decade also marked a movement for workers to shift from 12-hour, six-day work weeks to a 9-to-5, five-day work week. It's a time frame many local businesses still follow.
"Work often began at sunrise and ended at sunset," said Richard Greenwald, dean of the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies at Drew University in Madison, N.J. Trained as a social historian, Greenwald's work focuses on both American and global labor issues.
The 9-to-5 work day started in the 1880s among the skilled artisan members of the American Federation of Labor, he said.
The union argued that instead of working 12 hours, six days per week, a worker's day should be split into three: eight hours each for work, sleep and "for what we will."
The 9-to-5 standard also has roots in the agricultural economy before reliable sources of electricity, when sunlight dictated a worker's schedule.
It wasn't until the 20th century that 9 to 5 became a mainly white-collar work pattern - a predominant one by the 1930s and 1940s. One potential reason was that the stock market fit the 9 to 5 pattern, which banks followed, then retailers.
Now that there's the Internet, 24/7 superstores and flexible work scheduling, why do local retailers open during hours when their customers are potentially at work?
"Or why are they opened for the unemployed?" joked Ashley Winkle, director of MainStreet, a downtown advocacy group.
"More of them need to be opened at odd hours to generate more business," said Joann Maxwell, program coordinator for the Shoals Chamber of Commerce. "It would be good if some of them did stay open until 7 or 8. There are a lot of places I would like to go, but they're closed at 5."
Winkle said several downtown Florence stores are open until 6 p.m., giving a narrow gap for 9-to-5ers.
Winkle, citing data from the national MainStreet organization, said for a business to break from traditional hours, it would need to adhere to the non-traditional hours for at least a year for customers to make the adjustment.
"They may lose money for a year, but the return on it could be great," Winkle said.
El Sol, a barbershop in downtown Russellville, had 9 to 5 hours when it opened in late June, but by mid-August, owner Juan Sanchez shifted hours later in the day and into the evening.
Sanchez said he started his day at 9 at the beginning, but no one showed up until after noon.
Now, he not only can grab customers up to 8 p.m., but he has mornings free to do chores and other work.
"Business is better," Sanchez said at his two-chair salon that also includes a variety store in the front. "It's better than staying here doing nothing for several hours."
Leslie Cassady, owner of Audie Mescal Clothing, in Tuscumbia, said her trial with later hours wasn't as successful - so she now stays open until 5:30 p.m.
"If we did it on a regular basis, I might have to hire additional employees," Cassady said. "If it was regular, I wouldn't want to be here at 8 o'clock every night."
Others say the tradition is strong enough that to switch hours would mean lost business, even if more shoppers could browse. Many argue that customers can zip in during lunch or work break or wait until Saturday.
"As far as the business hours, it's the way it's always been for me," said Angie LeMay, owner of Village Florist Flowers and Gifts that opens 9 to 5, and mornings on Wednesday and Saturday. "My customers are used to these hours, so why change?"
Many larger national chains have eliminated 9 to 5 - some to the extreme of 24/7. For smaller, locally owned shops, however, that is nearly impossible because of staffing and insurance expenses.
Coldwater Books is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and until 9 p.m. weekends.
"A bookstore isn't a place where you just run in," said Debbie Malone, general manager.
For the hours to work, Malone said, "We all work crazy hours. Employees know they are subjected to working these hours - it's understood in the hiring process," she said of the evening workers, many of whom are college students.
The future of 9 to 5 is questionable since workers are now connected beyond the office.
"In some ways, the notion of a 9-to-5 job is an illusion," said Greenwald, who is working on a book on the rise of the freelance economy.
Americans are now working more than 40 hours and "the challenge will be that there was a vibrant labor movement that made the work day 9 to 5 and eight hours for leisure," Greenwald said. "There really isn't any compatible labor movement.
"The challenge will be for this coming generation - what they define as normal when it comes to work," Greenwald said.
Back at the comic store, Vaughn works a 9-to-5 day as a medical sales representative before opening his shop.
Around eight guys - and one female - spent Wednesday evening at the shop that is more of a collective, where both customers and owner spend time behind the register.
"Basically, we built this thing to be a hangout," said "Big Dan" Nichols, one of the regulars who was involved in the business from day one.
Trevor Stokes can be reached at 740-5728 or trevor.stokes@TimesDaily.com.