The Tel Aviv Municipality on Wednesday asked a municipal court to order various convenience stores that had opened on Saturday in violation of municipal bylaws to close.
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The stores, including chains AM:PM, Super Yuda, Tiv Ta’am, Drugstore Food and others, have been ordered to appear in the municipal court for local matters this morning.
In a filing, the municipality said that businesses that open on Saturdays in violation of municipal bylaws have been fined. The municipality asked the court to order those businesses to close on Saturdays.
Last week, a group representing both small-business owners and supermarket chains filed a complaint in Tel Aviv District Court. They asked the court to hold the municipality in contempt for violating previous court rulings regarding enforcement of the laws that prohibit operating businesses on Saturday. The group said the municipality has disregarded the court rulings and failed to issue fines during Israel’s conflict in Gaza.
“This means that Tel Aviv will be closed on Saturdays; no one will take the chance and open their minimarket under these circumstances,” says Kobi Cohen, chief executive of Super Yuda. According to Cohen, the court summons comes after his chain was fined twice for operating on Saturday, one a few weeks ago after Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar canceled the municipal bylaw and the second last Saturday.
For a number of weeks, the Tel Aviv Municipality has not issued fines, saying that the security situation required its attention elsewhere. Last week, however, the municipality resumed issuing 730-shekel ($209) fines to businesses operating on Saturday.
“In the background, there is the new bylaw that Sa’ar has 60 days to approve or reject. So on the one hand, only some of our problems will be solved, but on the other hand, this morning I feel like the scapegoat in the struggle to keep businesses open on Saturday,” added Cohen.
Earlier this week the Tel Aviv Municipal Council approved a change to the bylaw governing operation of grocery stores on Saturdays and holidays. The change would regulate the issue by enabling special permits for Saturday openings. The new bylaw would allow 164 supermarkets and kiosks to open on Saturdays, grouped by area. These represent less than a third of the businesses that currently open on Saturdays. The permits would be issued for two years and would not be transferable.
According to the municipality, 30 convenience stores located in gas stations were issued special permits allowing them to open on Saturday despite the fact that the interior minister did not approve the bylaw.
The convenience-store controversy in Tel Aviv began a few years ago. Small stores in the city complained that they faced unfair competition from larger supermarket chains that open on Saturdays, including AM:PM and Tiv Ta’am. The original bylaw enabled minor fines for businesses that opened on Saturdays, which small-business owners claimed discriminated in favor of larger chains.