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If You Can’t Shop on Sunday, Sign a Petition

Campaign to Repeal Bergen County Blue Laws Gains Momentum Amidst Mixed Reaction

Bergen County—Westwood resident Rosemary Shashoua started a campaign earlier this year to repeal the Blue Laws in Bergen County and many Sabbath-observing residents are behind her.

“I came from South Africa where stores are open seven days a week and people don’t have to stress about getting their errands done,” says Teaneck resident Avril Shefts, who a Shabbos observer, “If stores were open on Sundays, we could all rest assured that we would find time to do all of our shopping over the weekend, so that we do not have to take time off from work, and be docked for the time we took off.”

While Teaneck Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen is for the repeal, explaining that although historically established for religious reasons, Blue Laws exist today to eliminate traffic and give workers a day off, Mayor Richard LaBarbiera of Paramus completely dismisses Shashoua’s efforts.

“I can refute any type of argument that opposes the Blue Laws, whether it is financial, religious, or quality of life-related,”says LaBarbiera, explaining that the laws, as they exist today, have been in place for around 60 years to provide “balance” in the lives of business owners, workers and residents. He maintains that today’s laws have to do with traffic and giving workers respite and not religion.

When the very first Blue Laws were established centuries ago, they were Puritanical in nature and Sunday was a day for religious observance. Men and women attended church, feasted with their families, studied the bible and kept their businesses closed until the following day. Although it is still a day for church attendance in modern times, crowded stores in New York and other parts of New Jersey are testament to the fact that Sunday is also a popular shopping day. However, the Blue Laws in Bergen County, where Paramus reigns supreme as Retail Queen (with over $5 billion in annual retail sales), have endured, despite two prior unsuccessful repeal attempts, the most recent in 1993.

LaBarbiera tells JLBC that workers have expressed gratitude for the day off and Paramus residents appreciate clear roads after Saturday, which sees approximately double the business of a week day and intensely congested thoroughfares.He adds that even representatives of Jewish day schools have thanked him for keeping these laws in place so that school events, like an annual run, can take place at shopping centers on Sundays. Some residents of Paramus agree with the mayor’s point of view and others don’t mind that they are inadvertently saving money by not being able to shop.

“Five days a week the traffic on Route 4 is unbearable going west from Englewood all the way to Fair Lawn,” says Stu Oppenheim of Fairlawn, “The trip that should normally take seven minutes takes upward of 25 minutes and around ‘the holiday season’ even longer. Sunday is the one day as a Jew that I have off and can drive to friends, relatives, museums… It is nice to have minimal traffic getting around Bergen County.”

As this issue of JLBC goes to print, Shashoua has received over 1,200 of the 2,500 signatures required to secure ballot referendum come November. Elie Rosenfeld, a resident of Teaneck, has been lending his impressive knowledgeof the laws and his support to Shashoua’s crusade. Fluent in all things Blue Laws, he says that he once met former NJ Governor Jon Corzine who told him that “100 million dollars in tax revenue is lost” due to the laws restricting Sunday business.

“The problem is that Paramus, where all the great stores are,  has its own superseding laws,” Rosenfeld laments, “Even if this was to get overturned for Bergen County,it would not get overturned in Paramus unless its borough council rules it out.”

He also points out how the law is not being equally enforced and says it is not fair to small business owners that supermarkets are able to make a profit on Sundays on the same items that they offer. He adds that although Paramus lawmakers have said that police and other ancillary services required on a Sunday would increase costs for the town, rental values would rise if stores could be open seven days a week, and ultimately, the town would benefit from that increased value.

“Employment just kicked up too and a vast majority of employees would rather work more than work less,” says Rosenfeld. He argues that state statutes are so poorly drafted that one is permitted to buy an airplane on Sunday, but not a car.“You can buy socks at Shoprite because Shoprite is open, but since it is against the law to sell socks, small businesses lose outby being closed. The Staples in Fort Lee is open Sundays because they don’t sell furniture. That was the way they were able to get out of being closed. The rules make no sense and it is unfair to the mom and pop stores.”

Many have taken to Shashoua’s Facebook group (“Modernize Bergen County New Jersey: Repeal the Blue Laws”) to pose a question that Rosenfeld also asks: Why specifically Sunday? Why not a weekday when those rushing to a meeting would appreciate a break in traffic?

Ironically, LaBarbiera himself provides the example of hair salons being closed on Mondays when talking about respite for employees.

So, why Sunday? It is a question that no one was able to answer for this article. LaBarbiera did say that Sunday is traditionally a day of rest, but those who take Saturday as theirs beg to differ. When Governor Chris Christie was first elected he had pledged to change the Blue Laws, but quickly buckled to pressure from New Jersey lawmakers. During Hurricane Sandy, a declared “state of emergency,” the Blue Laws were temporarily lifted, but not without initial resistance from Paramus.

In her proposal, Shashoua writes: “According to John Holub, president of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association, adding a day of shopping in Bergen County would generate 3,200 jobs and more than $1.1 billion in net new retail sales a year. A portion of those sales would be from people who would have shopped online when retailers in their home county are closed.  There would an additional 3,200 jobs for 900,000 residents.”

Shashoua goes on to mention Shabbos observers and how that group, and other types of religious observers who cannot shop on Saturdays, would increase the Sunday shopping population. But really, is it enough of an argument to say that the highest grossing shopping county in the nation could do even better? Not for LaBarbiera who claims that Paramus has the best workforce in the country because of the laws, that employees come from all over to work in Paramus so they can have that one day off. Furthermore, LaBarbiera contends that it would be “disastrous” to add Sunday to the mix and offset the “balance.”

Shashoua and her group are up against a tough crowd whose attitude reflects the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Her predecessors haven’t met with success, but observant Jews are scrambling to get their signatures on her petition, hoping that she will.

Shira Hirschman Weiss is a writer living in Bergen County.

By Shira Hirschman Weiss

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