Closing Time

I just got back from my semi-regular 3 AM constitutional, and I was thinking about how lonely the streets are at night. Of the 200+ businesses, shops, et cetera, within walkable distance of my house, only about a dozen are open 168 hours a week. This includes WalMart, three restaurants, a photocopy center, a pharmacy, and a smattering of gas stations. Since I’m up and about during this time often, I frequent these places, and business, as you might expect, is very slow. WalMart seems to use this time to restock more than anything. I dream that when I go out in the middle of the night, I walk amongst open music stores, libraries, beauty salons, cinemas, bookstores, parks, and museums. I can’t say I blame any one establishment for shutting down at night, because they’d get almost no business. But it all seems like a viscious cycle to me: nobody’s going to stay up if there’s nothing open, and vice versa. Why does society have to shut down at night? The obvious answer is that that’s the way they had to do it 200 years ago, so now we’re stuck with it. But is there some reason that, well, makes more sense, something that I’m missing?

Also, I’m a good kid. I don’t go out causing mischief. I go out for walks, and to look at the stars. However, just because I’m out and about at night, without official business, I’m placed under a certain amount of, well, police suspicion. I feel like society has given me the cold shoulder for being nocturnal. Is there anywhere that’s made for people like me? Where establishments are open all the time, and the sight of citizens hanging out is no more unacceptable at 3 AM as at 10 PM?

PS: Sorry if this can be found somewhere else on the SDMB or in the archives, but I had no idea what to search for.

Even though it is easier to get around at night (streetlights, paved streets, etc.) than 200 years ago, people don’t generally sally forth as you do at 3AM. Why? Because 90-some-percent of us have the strong biological urge to sleep. Since for most (if not all) businesses it’s not economically profitable to stay open that long, they don’t.

Some businesses have such low overhead that they can try the 24/7 schedule, such as gas stations. (There always seems to be traffic at any hour, and many of them need gas.)

Wal*Mart & 7-11 use it mainly as a gimmick. They mainly use the time to restock and such. But it sure makes a dent in people’s memory on the rare occasion that they are out at 3AM. (“I could sure go for a non-alcoholic Pina Colada after an evening of bar hopping. Say look, that 7-11 has Pina Colada Slurpees and they’re open! I must frequent here more often!”) It really hits home for the pharmacy you mention; either someone forgot that they ran out of nitroglycerin tablets, or some hot & heavy couple need condoms.

When I was a teen, I too liked just walking around in the middle of the night. I’d often spend a lot of time at 7-11. I’d play in their arcade, so I wasn’t loitering. Once I almost got ran over by a sheriff’s car because he was cruising our neighborhood with his lights off (and we didn’t have regular street lights).

I attribute this nighttime teen wanderlust to metabolisms that are being thrown off by growth spurts and other physical maturations.

physical maturations.
LOL-You can just imagine how I initially read that.

a)Wal-Mart has everything you need.
b)The freaks come out at night.
c)If, for some reason, Wal-Mart doesn’t have what you need, go to Denny’s and wait for another store to open.
d)Move to NYC.


Okay okay. My hormones aside, thanks for your posts, but I didn’t really get an answer I’m satisfied with, only more of what I already knew. I sleep just as much as the next person, so I don’t see really what that has to do with it. Anyway, I’m going to try asking it differently:

Is there any good reason that a society where there is no preferred time to be awake will not work?

I know why the society that I’m currently in can’t change, because the change would have to be drastic, and as I said before, one’s it’s stuck in the rut of sleeping-at-night, it’s going to stay stuck. However, what if there were a society that were not already in this rut? Is a system like that inherently unstable? Would it eventually transform into the setup I’m familiar with?

And psycat90 (or anyone, I guess), does NYC actually have what I want? Round-the-clock libraries, hardware shops, gyms, etc? If so, I’m there! :slight_smile:

The problem is one of personnel. Any given establishment has enough employees to keep them open a certain number of hours-- Let’s say it’s 10 hours. They have three choices, then: They can choose the 10 hours which are most likely to get them customers (not necessarily daylight hours, depending on the establishment), they can choose some other set of ten hours, or they can spread their ten hours worth of employees over 24 hours, and be chronically understaffed.
Of course, if the whole population had wake/sleep cycles of arbitrary phase, then the clientele would be more spread out over the day, and a store would need fewer people on staff during the day. This still doesn’t solve the problem, as staff required is not linear with the number of customers. At the very least, you always need one person on duty for the place to be open.
OK, you say, so why not have half as many establishments, with each open for twice as long? Now the problem is one of geography and proximity. Unless you’re willing to live two or three times as many people occupying a given living space by using it at different times, the various establishments of which you speak would not be available in a reasonable walking distance of your home.

It would be nice, though, were it practical.

I don’t know of any round the clock libraries, but NYC has at least one 24 hour Home Depot and round-the-clock,bowling alleys and gyms.Part of the problem with 24 hour stores in NYC (including 7-11’s etc),especially in the outer boroughs, is that the neighbors don’t want the extra traffic.

I can speak about why libraries aren’t open 24 hours.

  1. Attendance in libraries drops off sharply after 6 pm in most places. Even in suburbs where people are returning from work late, people usually just want to go home and eat and not wander over to the library. Most of these people go to the library on Saturday, which is usually the busiest day of the week.

  2. Many college libraries are open 24 hours for students who want to study. Usually, it’s not the entire library, but designated study rooms. There isn’t any reference or circulation service. Not many students come to a library at 3 am and find out that they need to check out a book.

3)A public library probably does not have enough money to stay open for 24 hours. Since few people would be checking out any books, the library would have a hard time justifying staying open to the taxpayers. The library would also have to hire more security to make sure that the library isn’t turning into a de facto homeless shelter. (Most public libraries have official written policies that prohibit sleeping.)

About the only US city where I can picture a sufficient number of people being out and about in the wee hours of the morning to keep its public library open late would be in New York City and I doubt that NYPL would ever think of staying open later than it is already open now.

Archenar, I don’t know any inherent reason why it couldn’t work, given the right circumstances. Some logistical problems have been noted. Primarily I would think it is paying for the staff.

However, I can imagine a situation that would seem to make sense. Of course to do so I must bring up the inevitable Star Trek reference. :wink: On their starships, they are supposed to have three crew shifts, in 8 hour periods. They like to function off an Earth-standard cycle, with a designated day and night, and most functions in “days”, with lighter crews at “night”. However, can you imagine a military vessel functioning with a 3 term cycle, each group running it’s own “day”, so that each shift has access to all activities in their off periods? Have 3 equally balanced shifts? You still have the logistics of housing everyone, and shared bunking seems to be a probable, but military vessels typically have something like that anyway.

As AWB mentioned, the main reason is that most people have a biological urge to sleep at night. I don’t think we sleep at night because everyone else does (and everything’s closed), I think we sleep at night because we’re wired that way (most people anyway). And because of that, most things are closed (harder to get people to work at night, and fewer customers per hour).

Of course, I don’t have any references to cite about sleep patterns, and I tend to stay up pretty late if left on my own, so I’m not 100% certain :slight_smile:


Keep in mind that staying up late is far more easier nowadays than earlier. We have lightbulbs. If one were in true night, without artificial light, one would find it very difficult to stay awake.

I should know; all my lights are on and I’ve had six hours sleep in the last two days.

Thanks for all your replies, everyone, and I’d like to address some of them, if I may.

Chronos, good point. It would come down to either more people per area, or sparser stores. However, given the profuseness of foliage and the paucity of two-story buldings in my area, I’m willing to bet that there are plenty of places with a population density triple that of my homely little hamlet.

BobT, I understand your statements. But they are all instances of being caught in the cycle. For instance, you say, “Attendance in libraries drops off sharply after 6 pm”. Well, why is that? It’s because of the times that people are awake, and the times that people work. That’s why I restated my original question. Interesting points, though.

Arjuna34, I didn’t know that people are tuned to sleep at night. If anyone has any references on this point (and any knowledge of drugs that can be dumped into the city’s drinking water to counteract the biological urge) please speak up. But I was thinking about it, and while I know several people who are asleep from 00:00 to 08:00, I don’t know anyone who sleeps from 16:00 to 00:00, even though that would give you the same amount of sunlight. Now, if, in my Nocturnal Society, some people who liked the day were on the first schedule, and the rest were on the second schedule, it would work out, because there would always be people up, right? Personally, if I liked the daytime, I’d want the second one, so I could go to work from 01:00 to 09:00, and then have all these hours of daytime after I got out of work to play tennis or do whatever it is people do during the day.