Most businesses and offices in the United States are open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Employees take an hour-long lunch break sometime between noon and 2:00 p.m., but they take breaks at different times so there is always someone to help customers.
Retail stores operate on a slightly different schedule. Most stores in the city center open between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m. and close at 5:30 or 6:00 p.m., except on Fridays when they often stay open later. They are open on Saturday and during lunch hours.
Outside the city center you will find other shopping areas called shopping centers and malls. You usually need a car to get there, but the parking is free. Malls are covered shopping areas with many different stores and restaurants all under on roof. They are heated and air-conditioned and generally safe. They also stay open until 9:00 p.m., and they are usually open on Sunday.
Grocery stores and supermarkets are usually open from 8:00 a.m. until late in the evening. In most towns and cities there will be at least one which is open all day and night, seven days a week.
To help you in your shopping, here is a description of the different kinds of stores you will find in the United States:
Specialty Shops: These are small stores which carry only one or two kinds of merchandise, such as shoes, clothing, books, stationery, antiques, jewelry, hardware, etc.
Chain Stores: These stores operate throughout the country, and carry clothing, household goods and appliances, hardware, and furniture at reasonable prices. Some well-known chain stores are JC Penney, Sears, and Montgomery Ward. There are also certain discount chain stores. Some well-known ones are Wal-Mart, Kmart, Ames, Target, Bradlees, and Woolworth.
Department Stores: These stores are very large and have a wide variety of products. The products are organized into different departments, such as men's, women's, and children's clothing; house wares; furniture; appliances; fabric; toys; etc.
Factory Outlets: These retail stores are run by the manufacturers. They sell their own products at lower prices than those charged by other retail stores. These outlets are often located outside the city center.
Convenience Stores: These small stores are open all day and late into the evening. They sell basic food items, tobacco, newspapers, and other small items. Their prices are usually higher than those at supermarkets, but they are often close to your home and open when you need them.
Gas Stations: Gas, oil, and other supplies for cars are easily available in the suburbs, in small towns, and along highways. There are few gas stations in the centers of big cities. Nowadays most stations are self-service. This means you must pump your own gas. In some places you pay; then pump. In some places you pump first and pay after. A sign will tell you what to do. Some stations have full-service pumps. This means an attendant will pump your gas. The attendant may also check your oil and clean your window, if you ask. The attendant does not expect to be tipped.
Some gas stations sell tires and do tire repair, but not all. A few stations have a mechanic to do engine repairs. The yellow pages in the telephone directory always list local sources for auto care. Auto clubs like AAA (American Automobile Association, or "Triple A") provide maps and travel advice as well as emergency service, towing, and mechanical help to members. Inside many gas stations, there is a small convenience store. Most towns have a least one 24-hour gas station.
Drug Stores: Over-the-counter or patent medicines are available in many kinds of stores. Stronger or specialty medicines are available only in drug stores or pharmacies. They must be prescribed by a doctor. In the U.S., pharmacists cannot prescribe medicines; they only prepare them with a doctor's order. Prescription and name brand medicines are generally expensive, and the pharmacist may sell a generic medicine which does the same thing for less money. Drug stores also sell many things. They are like small department stores.
There are federal taxes on some items purchases in stores in the United States, and most states (and in some cities) have a sales tax of 2% to 10%.