England’s Sunday Trading Laws a Headache for Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child release date was timed to fall on July 31st to coincide with Harry’s 36th birthday. There’s just one small problem: it’s a Sunday.

When the announcement that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child‘s script would be released in book form for fans around the world to read , it was mass hysteria on the internet on par with the fall of Voldemort in 1981. Fans wept openly on Twitter, people called to tell their loved ones, and the older generation signed with joy, knowing we would all once again gather on a summer’s night together in our finest wizard’s robes and share in communal joy of buying books.

There’s just one problem. As we know the book is being released on midnight July 31st, to time both with coming directly after opening night of the show at London’s Palace Theater and Harry Potter’s 36 birthday. The thing is, July 31st, 2016 is a Sunday.

Why would that matter? Come children, gather around and let me tell you about a little thing that have in England called “Sunday Trading Laws.” Up until 1994, in the UK, selling in shops was illegal on Sundays. Period. End of list. Had been that way since the Shops Act 1950. In 1994, Parliament enacted the Sunday trading laws, which was a compromised deal, after full admittance into the modern times was mysteriously defeated in the mid 1980s. It allows shops to open, but restricting opening times of larger retailers to a maximum of six hours, between 10am-6pm. As wikipedia notes, this includes even 24 hour supermarkets. There are lots of loopholes–opening half an hour early for “browsing time”, deliveries allowed as early as 9am, etc.


As one can imagine, that rather puts a damper on things. Any bookshop over 280 m (that’s 3000 sq ft) is basically barred from selling the Harry Potter books at 12 midnight. Places like Waterstones, Blackwells and other larger chains have been quietly lobbying Little, Brown to allow for flexibility in releasing the book on the 30th. According to The Bookseller, both have now put out statements hoping to perhaps bring attention to the issue.

Kate Skipper, books director at Waterstones, said: “We would welcome an earlier publication day so that all our shops and customers can revel in the excitement of the release of the eighth Harry Potter story as much as they wish, without facing Sunday trading hurdles. However, Harry Potter’s birthday is a special day for many Harry Potter fans so we do understand why the date has been picked. One of the nicest things about Harry Potter fans is their dedication and loyalty to Harry so it will undoubtedly be a moment of absolute celebration whenever it is published. We can’t wait.”

David Precott, m.d. of Blackwell’s, said: “If Little, Brown can move the date of the book’s release then obviously it would be wonderful if our customers in England could buy the title at the same time as our customers in Scotland.”

But no dice. Rowling is very strict about her spoiler leak policy, and she doesn’t want to suddenly allow a bunch of stores located only in England to suddenly be selling them hours early while everyone else has to wait, just because Parliament has yet to figure out how to join the 21st century. And we should be clear–this ONLY effects English shops. Not UK shops–English shops. Shops in Wales, Scotland and Ireland will be just fine, because their local leaders have been ignoring this outdated nonsense for years.

Why did Rowling and her people not take it into account that the one place that would not be able to release the book on their chosen date is the very home of Harry Potter when choosing the release date in the first place? Because in March of 2016, less than a month after this was announced, Parliament put it up to a vote to get rid of the Sunday trading laws and join the rest of the planet in 24-7-365 shopping goodness. And Rowling’s people assumed that Parliament would not actually be so stupid as to continue this outdated tradition that makes their entire country look like a peculiar and weird little backwater former empire still trying to hold on the the 19th century. Of course, one never went broke underestimating the stupidity of politicians, and the Sunday trading laws were in fact upheld.

According to The Bookseller, bookshops are now scrambling to figure out creative ways around the issue, including doing pre-sales up until 11:59pm Saturday and then holding “private events” where they will issue tickets to allow people into the store at midnight to pick up their previously purchased books. Either way, the parties will go on.