Giving Napier stores the option to remain open for business on Easter could boost the local economy, and bring more visitors to the region, local proponents say.

Napier City Council has become the only one in the region to give local businesses the option of remaining open on Easter Sunday.

Previously, retailers have been bound by legislation that stipulates shops must be closed on Easter Sunday unless exempt. If they open they could face a $1000 fine.

While some local stores have flouted this law - such as Mitre 10 Mega Napier for the past 10 years - the majority have complied, and shut up shop for the one day.


However in February the council took advantage of recent changes to the Shop Trading Hours Act by adopting the Local Easter Trading Policy - giving businesses the option to open, and employees the option to work, on Easter Sunday.

Napier Mayor Bill Dalton said they had made this move as the former legislation and system had not worked well.

"Either we have one system across New Zealand that says no Sunday trading, or we have a system where it says you're allowed," he said.

"But we've had in the past a system [which] says various communities are handpicked to be allowed to have Sunday trading on the basis that they're tourist centres."

With changes to the Shop Trading Hours Act, he said the most sensible move for the council was to have one rule which gave employers the option to open on Easter Sunday.

"With the safeguard being that employees must be able to choose without penalty the option of whether to work or not."

When asked if he felt the policy could benefit Napier businesses, he said it was "entirely up to them", because if they felt would get a benefit, then they would open.

"We regard ourselves as a tourist centre and we found it very strange that other towns in New Zealand who were regarded as tourist centres where Sunday trading was permissible.

"It was not permissible in Napier so we thought that was stupid."

Next weekend the policy will be put into action for the first time, with the council able to see how many businesses take up the opportunity to keep their doors open on Easter Sunday.

The policy was one which split public opinion - the 42 submissions received on the policy during the consultation period were split equally in favour and against.

Those opposed argued allowing shops to trade would come at a social cost to families and communities which outweighed any economic benefits. Support centred on Napier being a tourist destination that should be "open for business" on one of the busiest tourist weekends.

Napier councillors had also been split - with the policy passing by just a one-vote majority.

They had said it was a conscience vote - with the main arguments against it being that it would affect time spent with family, place pressure on retailers and impact on workers.

However during the consultation period a survey also indicated a majority felt retailers should be given the choice to open on Easter Sunday.

It was also expected that if businesses chose to open, there was the potential for economic benefit.

This was supported by Hawke's Bay Chamber of Commerce chief executive Wayne Walford, who also said the policy could make Napier a drawcard in the region.

"Anybody that's open has got the opportunity to make some more money and to increase the economic value of the region, but that's up to the individual employers about what they want to do and how it works for them."

Seeing how many stores opened this year could provide a gauge for how much of an impact the policy would have in future, Mr Walford said.

He cited visits to areas in previous years where shops had flouted the law and remained open for trading - such as Mount Maunganui, where open stores became a "magnet opportunity" for hundreds of shoppers.

Napier shops which chose to open would have the opportunity to "do something different" to draw customers in, from making their store windows more enticing, or using special offers.

As well as tourists making the most of stores being open, residents of other towns in Hawke's Bay and even further afield could be drawn to Napier, he said.

This was echoed by Hawke's Bay Tourism general manager Annie Dundas.

"I think it's great, it gives visitors choice," she said.

"[Easter] is one of our busiest weekends across the year so we do tend to get people staying for two or three nights."

Because visitors did not differentiate between holidays, and other days, "if they're here it just makes it easier to spread visitors into lots more places, it's a sensible decision".

"What it certainly means is there's more chance for people to go out and spend a bit more money, and get out into restaurants and things that will be open legally on Easter Sunday," she said.

"It's just great to have the city open for those [shops] that want to be open. It's an opportunity for them to make a bit more money."