MORE SHOPPING HOURS: Germany’s cabinet moved Wednesday to relax the nation’s stringent laws regulating retail opening hours. According to a new billapproved by the cabinet, stores will now be allowed to remain open Saturdays until 8 p.m. Currently, German stores are required to close at 4 p.m. Saturdays, with the exception of the four Saturdays before Christmas, when they may stay open until 6 p.m. The new ruling, which still must be passed by the parliament, would allow retailers to conduct business from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Sundays, however, will remain "a day of rest" in Germany, with stores closed, according to Wolfgang Clement, the German minister of trade and commerce who framed the new law. German retail and consumer groups welcomed the new opening hours, whereas trade unions have been quite vocal in their opposition. The earliest the new law could take effect is April.

I’LL FORSAKE MANHATTAN: There could be another retail vacancy downtown, if real estate sources have it right. Kmart Corp.’s Astor Place location is reportedly one of the New York sites being actively considered for closure in the next round of the bankrupt discounter’s space reductions. Unlike Astor Place and a location in Queens, the bankrupt discounter’s other Manhattan location, on 34th Street, is not believed to be on the list of nearly 600 stores the firm is reviewing for possible termination. The 34th Street unit appeared destined for closure about two years ago, before that decision was rescinded following the hiring of a new store manager.

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