Fair Lawn shopkeeper questions blue laws
Brian Lynn opened his Judaica store, Priceless Possessions, in Fair Lawn on Jan. 4. As an observant Jew, he closes early on Friday afternoons and remains closed all of Saturday. Thinking he had fulfilled the requirement of the blue laws to close one day a week, he opened his store each Sunday during January.
Last Sunday, though, a police officer, Sean Nagel, came in and told Lynn the blue laws required that he close the store on Sunday. A customer looking to buy a mezuzah was sent out of the store when Nagel told Lynn there would be a $’50 fine if he sold the item. Lynn closed his store that day, but resolved to pursue the matter further.
Brian Lynn is surrounded by the Judaica he sells six days a week in his Fair Lawn shop. Photo by Ken Hilfman
"I’m not looking to throw the blue laws out, but they should be fairly applied to stores," Lynn told The Jewish Standard Tuesday morning. "On the top of the letter the officer gave me, it said observance of Sabbath laws. I close Saturday and Friday afternoons. Why can’t I be open on Sunday? As they say, it’s not my Sabbath."
Lynn called the ACLU and the Anti-Defamation League, and, on the recommendation of the officer, he also called Fair Lawn Borough Manager Tom Metzler on Monday. Metzler told Lynn he would check with the borough’s attorney and get back to him.
On Tuesday afternoon, Metzler asked Lynn what kind of products he sold. When Lynn told him, Metzler said he did not think the sale of Judaica items would be prohibited under blue law restrictions. As of Wednesday, Lynn was still waiting to hear back from the borough manager.
The Standard’s calls to Metzler’s office were not returned as of Wednesday afternoon.
Bruce Rosenberg, the borough attorney, told the Standard on Wednesday that based on what Metzler described to him, Priceless Possessions would not fall under the jurisdiction of the blue laws. However, the exclusion is not because of Lynn’s religious affiliation or the day he observes the Sabbath, but solely because of the nature of the goods sold.
"Based upon what Manager Metzler has told me, I think it’s clear that none of the items being offered for sale fall under the list of items set forth in the state statute," he said.
According to the Acts Prohibited Referendum (blue laws), "On the first day of the week, commonly known and designated as Sunday, it shall be unlawful for any person whether it be at retail, wholesale, or by auction, to sell, attempt to sell, or offer to sell or to engage in the business of selling, as hereinafter defined, clothing or wearing apparel, building and lumber supply materials, furniture, home or business or office furnishings, household, business or office appliances ."
"Clothing and wearing apparel" includes any article worn by a man, woman, or child as bodily covering or protection. While the definition includes headwear, Lynn said he did not believe yarmulkes would be included in this category since they are worn solely for religious purposes. Rosenberg’s interpretation seemingly supports Lynn’s belief.
In Teaneck, two Judaica shops remain open on Sundays because, apparently, the town has determined that the goods they carry do not fall under the prohibited categories this despite the fact that the stores sell Jewish-themed books, CDs, and other products. Reuben Nayowitz, owner of Judaica House, said that religious items do not fall under the jurisdiction of the blue laws. Mayor Eli Katz told the Standard that he sees the blue laws as an obstacle to attracting national retailers to Teaneck, which has a large Orthodox population whose members do not shop on Saturday.
This summer, Katz tried to push forward a referendum to permit communities to opt out of observing the blue laws. In August, he dropped the pursuit in the face of legal concerns surrounding the issue.
"Going blue-law free would help local businesses and provide convenience for residents," he said Tuesday. "We need to attract national retailers to help relieve the tax burden. [But] national stores look at sales impediments. In Teaneck, there are a number of residents who cannot shop on Saturday, and the blue laws are impediments to shopping on Sunday."
Rabbi Kenneth Berger of Teaneck’s Cong. Beth Sholom would also like individual communities to put the laws to a vote.
"Towns that would like not to have them should be able to live without them," he said. "I don’t think they’re fair to people who are shomer Shabbat or to businesses that want to stay open."
In ’00’, state Sen. Loretta Weinberg tried to advance a bill for individual community decisions on the laws, but she met with opposition. While she received a handful of phone calls in support of the measure, her office received thousands of e-mails and voice messages in opposition.
"The telephone calls filled up my voicemail at night," she said. "It was filled up with people against this."
Much of the outcry to keep the blue laws intact comes from Paramus, which actually has stricter versions of the laws. With four major shopping areas, Paramus reports the highest volume of sales annually more than $5 billion of any zip code in the United States, according to the retail news Website www.globest.com.
Rabbi Neal Borovitz, president of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis and a resident of Paramus with a congregation in River Edge, said he is of two minds on the blue laws issue. His concerns seem to echo the ongoing debate on the issue within the Jewish community.
"As somebody who doesn’t shop on Shabbat, I would like the convenience of stores open seven days a week. As a Paramus resident, I appreciate the day of reprieve from traffic."