Op-Ed: Towns Should Dictate Blue Laws

Blue Laws 'handicap' local businesses, writes Teaneck councilman and former mayor

The following op-ed was submitted by Elie Y. Katz, a council member and former Teaneck mayor. 


Ah yes, the Blue Laws.

When I was Mayor of Teaneck, at the request of many Teaneck residents, I briefly touched the third rail of this "taboo" subject by looking into a referendum question for Teaneck voters.

It was not the harsh phone call from the Paramus Borough Attorney, nor the legal threats from mall operators outside Bergen County nor the concern from many husbands about their wives getting an extra day of shopping that made the Council withdraw the question.  Rather, it was the fact that we were not legally permitted to offer a referendum question on a law which the state controls.

It seems a little strange that in a country which strives for justice and prides itself on its successful separation of Church and State, that government can prevent us from purchasing underwear and socks on Sunday.

While I am personally a firm believer in and supporter of having a day of rest, I would never force my beliefs on others. In fact, most proponents of Blue Laws today are not at all maintaining their position  because of religious beliefs.

There are two main focal points for Blue Law support. One is the town of Paramus. That town's residents rightly feel they are harassed  by traffic and visitors six days a week and deserve some peace and tranquility one day a week, Sunday.

A secondary opposition derives from mall operators outside Bergen County. They want Bergen County residents to spend their money with them. Capitalism as we understand it gives these mall operators the right to pursue their own interest politically and I would not have  it any other way.

You can't blame or fault either of those groups, because they have valid perspectives.

While some argue that having seven days of shopping will act as a pressure valve and relieve some of the Route 4 and 17 congestion, it is a certainty that six days of shopping guarantees Paramus residents one day of a traffic free, noise free community with a seven day a week tax base.

Neither group of Blue Law proponents, however, shows concern that local downtown business districts in other communities suffer because they fail to attract both office and commercial businesses that want or need to be open seven days a week or that close some other day. In Teaneck, for example, many businesses are closed on Saturday and there is even a mistaken perception that those businesses which are open Saturday are closed that day.

There have not till now been enough politicians with the political will power to take on this sacred cow because the supporters of removing Blue Laws are a silent majority while those who are against any changes to the rules are a very vocal minority. If state politicians do change or alter the rules, they should allow each municipality to dictate their own situation and opt in or out on an individual basis.

Paramus could then impose the absolutely strictest Blue Law for itself and rightly keep their Sunday peace and quiet while other towns could look to rebuild their business districts.

The pressure valve that clearly most requires easement is to be found in residents' need to shift their tax burden more onto their town's commercial entities and away from residential homeowners. This can only be accomplished by building up such a town's commercial base.

Bergen County residents are struggling with some of the nations highest property taxes and yet do not have the final say that municipalities everywhere else in New Jersey and throughout the United States have to determine when they might conduct business.

How many more jobs could be created if hundreds of Bergen County stores were open one more day?

At a time when local brick and mortar merchants of all sizes are struggling against the competition of the internet, closing Sunday adds on an additional handicap to the burdens of small business owners and their workforce, our neighbors.

Tee Smyth February 12, 2013 at 04:31 AM
What's funny is that the "workers of Teaneck" don't even work five days per week. Lol.
William Mays February 12, 2013 at 05:09 AM
I was actually born here. I've been annoyed by blue laws since I first began to understand them when I was in elementary school.
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Tee Smyth February 12, 2013 at 02:53 PM
Yet....you stayed.
21st century concerned citizen February 12, 2013 at 03:22 PM
Unbelievable arguments with the logic that lifting the Blue Laws would require people to work 7 days a week. Lifting the Blue Laws would allow additional employment opportunities in Bergen County. For all of the naive comments about keeping the Blue Laws intact we have a huge unemployment problem in this county. Students who are both going to school and those who have graduated cannot find jobs and are running up significant student loans. Have you all been reading the news articles on our employment issues??????? Also towns like Hackensack, Teaneck, Westwood etc would have more demand for retail space if the locations were open 7 days instead of 6. If you do not like traffic, I would suggest you look for another area of the country (perhaps the Dakota's) to live in. I have lived in Bergen County for over 60 years. I have seen a vibrant Hackensack and Teaneck and to make them retail hubs again we need to lift these 1800 era laws
PeterB February 12, 2013 at 03:33 PM
@ Beth - what does being a orthodox jew have anything to do with this subject? You live in the most congested area in the country, if you want your peace and quiet move to Kansas. I am sure you would love to commute 20 mile to the closest store which is Walmart.
Tee Smyth February 12, 2013 at 03:55 PM
Let's assume that the stores are permitted to open from 10 AM-6 PM on Sundays. That's an additional 8 hours. If you own a small store, are you hiring another person to handle those 8 hours, or will you just shift the hours of your existing employees? If the stores were going to be open 24 hours, I could moreso understand the argument of additional employment opportunities. Someone convince me otherwise. I'm open to listening.
21st century concerned citizen February 12, 2013 at 04:15 PM
One other item that the proponents of the 1800's Blue Laws neglect to comment on. In Bergen County as well as many other areas in NJ and the US, people are relying on Food Stamps, Food Banks and other venues for their survival. Why? Because we do not have enough jobs! Lifting the Blue Laws would open additional employment opportunities for all citizens. Senior Citizens who are trying to survive on Social Security could work an extra day or two each week at the Home Depot, Lowes, Target etc which are in our towns but do not open because of these antiquated laws. And don't even bring up the argument that there would be no extra jobs because the retailer would require their employees to work 7 days a week. In case you did not know we have Federal laws in place that require overtime payments for work over 40 hours a week. The retailers would hire additional employees and not have to pay the OT. While many comments concern the convenience of being able to shop on Sundays, the key argument is enhancing our economy and allowing people additional opportunities to WORK!!!! If you want to continue to support the Blue Laws, I would suggest you go to your local Food Bank and make a substantial contribution; as your argument is only supporting the lack of jobs and increase in handouts.
21st century concerned citizen February 12, 2013 at 04:20 PM
@Tee Smyth Lifting the Blue Laws will allow the retailer the opportunity of opening on Sundays. At least they will have the option of opening or staying closed. You could say that competition would require them to open but we do have many establishments that close another day of the week even though they have the option of staying open. La Viano in Westwood is closed on Mondays. A number of restaurants are closed on Mondays. Again, this is America and the Land of Free Market Capitalism. Our Business Owners should be allowed the opportunity of making their own decision on when to open and when to close. They are the ones who have made the investment in their business
Tee Smyth February 12, 2013 at 05:07 PM
So, you believe that business owners should dictate quality of life. Sorry, I fundamentally disagree. You've taken a large leap towards what you think I believe, and what I support. Ahh, such is life. But, businesses are currently trying to figure out ways to circumvent Obamacare. I have absolutely no reason to believe that businesses will go through the expense of hiring people to cover an additional 8 hours. (I use 8 hours in the broadest of terms). I believe businesses will divide up those hours amoungst staff, while also staying under 40 hours.... while also trying to circumvent Obamacare! God bless America! Land of the Free.
Orthowatch February 12, 2013 at 06:08 PM
So you want to force the store owners to take a day to review their business? If an owner wants to review his business, he can do so. He/she can choose to close their store. The law shouldn't mandate it.
Mark Kelly February 12, 2013 at 06:24 PM
No but as a working and tax paying citizen. I shouldn't be penalized with stores being closed on Sundays. It doesn't penalize you. You can stay home and relax on sundays if the malls are open. Do you live on Rt 4 or Rt 17? If not it shouldn't effect your ability to unwind on a Sunday. Because as a resident the sat traffic is no skin off my back... neither would sunday. Same with if i wanted to do nothing and unwind on a Saturday. The malls being open doesn't effect my ability to unwind. But the malls being closed can effect my ability to be productive on the weekend... should i choose two. if this is up for a vote you can be sure i will be making sure every resident i know in Bergen county will be voting to revoke the dumb out of date laws.
Mark Kelly February 12, 2013 at 06:25 PM
Nobody is "Required" to do anything. if your a small business owner and want to close on Sundays SO BE IT. Barbers are universally closed on Mondays... Do people complain.. NO.
shimon baum February 12, 2013 at 08:23 PM
Shes a fake trust me no Orthodox Jew would want Costco closed on Sundays.
shimon baum February 12, 2013 at 08:38 PM
Actually it would be the customers who dictate that which would be mostly the residents of Bergen County. A business would not open just to be open. It would open because there is a demand from the customers. If there is no demand there is no point in being open. Any business who opens on a Sunday would figure that out pretty quickly. It's pretty simple.
mimi February 12, 2013 at 10:01 PM
Shimon, Costco is open on Sundays, you are just resricted in what you can purchase there. This is the most absurd application of this law that I've found.
Susan Romanoff Lazzaro February 12, 2013 at 11:13 PM
@ Willian Mays....99% of Paramus residents probably moved there after mall development started....are you kidding me? Ive lived here since 1964, before the Fashion Center, Paramus Park Mall and the Mall at 4. Before Riverside Square Mall. Before 2 highways lined with stores. And they keep building more and more mini malls.I remember when the GSP and the Bergen Mall were small and were outside malls. (and I am only in my 50's) I always say you know you're in Paramus when you see red tail lights.
Susan Romanoff Lazzaro February 12, 2013 at 11:24 PM
@ Mark. I work 3 jobs. One in the city from 7am till approx. 7pm because of the commute. My second job I work two to 3 nights a week from 6 to midnight. My third job I work from home. (Yes sometimes I end up working 7 days a week) And I have no problem getting something from the mall when I need it. Oh and I also raised two kids on my own. If I cant get to the mall when its opened, then I buy on line. So really what you are saying is because you dont want to be inconvenienced by going out after a long day of work or having to drive out of your way to go shopping on a Sunday they rest of us should be inconvenienced by having the added traffic on Sunday in Paramus. Not to mention, having Sunday open we would have to increase of Police and other first responders to accommodate for the extra people traveling through our great city. Who pays for that but us tax payers.
William Mays February 13, 2013 at 01:30 AM
Riverside Square Mall is in Hackensack. As you've stated, GSP and Bergen Town Center were already open. I know for a fact that Bergen Mall was one of the busiest malls in the area back in the day.
William Mays February 13, 2013 at 01:33 AM
Beth, keep your religion out of my life. I'm Jewish but I'm not a nuisance to others with my religious beliefs. Do not inject your beliefs into my life.
Heights12 February 13, 2013 at 02:26 PM
I agree with this article COMPLETELY!! Parmaus and any other towns in Bergen County can continue to have the blue law in effect - but let other towns have the choice. My town's business district is completely dead on Sundays and it very unfortunate. Sundays are meant for walking the town and stopping in our local businesses. If traffic is such a nightmare for Paramus residents - why did they make the choice to live there?? There are many other nice towns in Bergen County. Where do they go on Sundays? Everything is closed? Why do they need to cruise up and down a deserted route 17?
George P February 13, 2013 at 07:38 PM
If you need a rest, go ahead but why subject others to your Blue Laws? This law was enacted a long time ago. Times have changed. The stores in Teaneck are dying slowly. Just look at Cedar Lane.
Resident February 15, 2013 at 02:49 AM
Keep the blue laws! It's easy, find the time to go shopping the other 6 days out of the week! If the blue laws were lifted I'm sure people would then find something else to complain about!
Carmine DeMarco February 16, 2013 at 04:13 PM
Or, how about this scenario: the state legislature in Trenton simply repeals its Sunday Closing Law. Nothing need be done on a county referendum-based level, or on an individual municipality-based level. If a given municipality (like Paramus) wishes to have its own Blue Laws, it is free to do so.
Carmine DeMarco February 16, 2013 at 04:18 PM
And a note to Mr. Katz re. his comment: "Paramus could then impose the absolutely strictest Blue Law for itself and rightly keep their Sunday peace and quiet while other towns could look to rebuild their business districts." Have you READ the existing Paramus "Blue Law" ordinance? I don't think they can get any stricter than they already are, LOL.
Rick March 21, 2013 at 01:30 PM
@Beth...so stay home and get your rest, no one is telling you, you cant rest close your windows and close your doors, but dont let your desire for peace infirnge on my rights to go out an earn a living by operating my establishment
TSDK March 24, 2013 at 04:45 AM
I am going to say it has to do with the idea that people might assume Orthodox Jews would hate the blue laws. They can't shop on Saturday, so with the Blue Laws, they can't shop near home on Sunday either. Sunday isn't their Sabbath so theoretically it could hurt their businesses, having one in Bergen and only being able to be open mon-fri.
TSDK March 24, 2013 at 04:51 AM
I've lived in Bergen County since 1976 except for 7 years when I went to college and stayed by there for a little while after. What would be really awesome is if you want to make a point with "facts"- make sure your facts are correct. 99% of Paramus residents came AFTER the town was built up with all the malls?? Really? And the Plaza borders Maywood & Rochelle Park where the traffic is RIDICULOUS. It's great knowing if I have to be in NYC or down the shore on a Sunday, I can at least make it out of Bergen in decent time. I like the opportunity to go to a restaurant in Bergen on a Sunday without a two hour wait by 6p. I also saw after Hurricane Sandy how nice it was to be able to walk around Ridgewood on a Sunday and do more than window shop. I see both sides of the arguments. I own a small business not open on Sundays because of blue laws and can't say I don't like it since we have only one employee and we have to be there all six days. It's nice for US to have one forced day off. We don't ever take vacation because who can focus on vacation when you're thinking about all the possible money you're losing not being open. But I also live in a town with some of the highest property taxes in the county. So I get it. There are two sides. But for pete's sake- stop throwing around opinions & statistics as facts when they aren't. Check your spelling while you're at it too.
Lisa Dee May 25, 2013 at 07:27 AM
Elie, Paramus Park just approved 13 movie theaters and restaurants. This will add approx: 100,000+ cars on Sundays on side and main roads. The Blue Laws according to Paeamus is a Quality of Life issue,LOL. If it benefits the Paramus taxpayer no matter how badly it affects its neighbors does not seem to matter. Elie, its time for Paramus to knock off the hypocrisy. Bergen County should repeal Blue Laws and let each town decide for itself. Elie, you know a sabbath observant clothing store operator can't make it without Sunday. If Monsey and Spring have Dress shops that would open but they can't survive without Sunday opening.
Lisa Dee May 26, 2013 at 01:23 AM
Elie, I would encourage this group to hold off pushing for a vote. I would wait till after election and approach Govenor Christie who only backed off issue now for votes. Christie needs no convincing he knows sales feom east Bergen and Northern Bergen are going to New York on Sunday's. We can try and save a few downtowns. Paramus can stay closed. We can increase sales tax from lost sales to New York,payroll taxes, jobs, and if towns do better Real Estate property taxes rise this can especially help Teaneck.


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