Opting out of Sunday closings

Opting out of Sunday closings

Hurricane Sandy brought much misery to our region. It is responsible for more than 100 deaths in the United States alone, and for many billions of dollars in damage. Even as this editorial is being written, there are still pockets of powerless homes and businesses. A tunnel between New York and Brooklyn remains mostly closed; basements throughout the greater Metropolitan area remain flooded or heavily damaged. The aftershocks of Sandy will last for many years to come.

Yet some good came out of this superstorm, as it is rightly being called. As we remarked last week and continue to marvel over this week, Sandy proved yet again that our diverse communities nevertheless can come together in times of crisis. There is no challenge that can defeat us if we face it together. Sandy showed that we can – we will – face the challenges head on, as indeed we are doing even now, in its wake.

Another positive development is the returning to the political agenda the question of Bergen County’s so-called blue laws. Bergen County has the dubious distinction of being the last county in the United States to have such a burdensome set of laws on its books.

“Blue laws,” for those who are unfamiliar with the term, refers to laws that force businesses to close on Sundays. They got that name because the colony of New Haven, which first introduced those laws on this continent in the 17th century, published them on blue paper.

Because people had to repair, rebuild, and replenish in Sandy’s wake, Gov. Chris Christie issued an executive order temporarily lifting the ban. It ended this week. The city of Paramus, home to most of Bergen County’s largest stores, immediately announced that it would defy the order, citing the fact that it had an even stricter version on its own books. By way of example, if a Paramus police officer notices a car sitting in the parking lot of an office building on Sunday, he or she has been known to go door to door in the empty building looking for the miscreant who had the temerity to go to the office to catch up on some filing chores. That person would then be issued a summons for violating the local law.

When it defied the governor, Paramus was taken to court by the county government. A judge ordered Paramus to honor the order, which it did last Sunday, while nevertheless expressing its defiance. Said Mayor Richard LaBarbiera of the blue laws, “I will never stop fighting to make sure they are always here to protect our quality of life.”

Frankly, he and the residents of Paramus have every right to keep their retail stores closed on Sundays, and private offices, too, if they so choose, which they do. So does Fair Lawn, however, have the right to open its stores if it so chooses. So does Saddle Brook, and River Edge, and Englewood, and Hackensack, and every other village, town, borough, and city in Bergen County. If a dress store in Teaneck is doing business on Sundays, it has no effect on LaBarbiera or anyone else in Paramus. Not one extra car will make its way through Paramus’ sacrosanct streets to buy a pair of shoes at an outlet in a River Edge strip mall.

It is time for State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg to reintroduce legislation she first proposed in 2002 that would allow all local political entities in Bergen County to decide for themselves whether to opt out of the blue laws or to keep them on the books.

Weinberg was forced to withdraw that legislation because the Bergen County Council of Churches joined Paramus in mounting a powerful campaign against it and her. The BCCC’s then president, Rev. Stephen Giordano, made clear that any “piecemeal, community by community approach” to eliminating the blue laws was just as unacceptable as a total countywide repeal.

There are lots of arguments – some of them even good ones – for retaining the blue laws. There are compelling arguments for dropping them as well. For example, a Shabbat-observant storekeeper not only must be closed on Saturdays, but also must be closed on Sundays, resulting in a loss of business that congregants in the BCCC-affiliated churches do not have to suffer.

We are not advocating for an end to the blue laws in Paramus. We are advocating that every community in Bergen County be given the right to decide whether its businesses and private offices will be open or closed on Sundays.

It is time for Paramus to get out of everyone else’s business.