Singing the blues

Singing the blues

If you’ve lived in or even just visited Bergen County, you are aware of the blue laws. Walk into Costco on any Sunday and you will see sections of the store roped off with signs saying the store is not permitted to sell those items, while Macy’s and Bloomingdales remain dark. Sunday shopping restrictions are a fact of life here and a thorn in the side of Shabbat-observant residents. Some hope may be on the way, though, and we may have the faltering economy to thank.

Time Magazine reports that some of the few remaining states that have blue laws are considering repealing them to boost tax revenues during the economic downturn. The article refers specifically to blue laws banning the sale of alcohol on Sundays. While family organizations argue that allowing the sale of alcohol on Sunday will corrode family values, others say it will provide much needed income to cash-strapped state governments.

Bergen County has a different kind of blue law. You can buy beer, wine, vodka, rum, whatever your heart desires to get liquored up. You cannot, however, buy a T-shirt, a hammer, or a television. Bergen County’s blue laws forbid the sale of clothing, electronics, and home furnishings. The “Sabbath day” law originally was just that – an enforcement of the Christian Sabbath. As the 20th century progressed, however, the purpose of the blue laws changed. Paramus is reportedly the densest shopping area in the entire country. Anybody who drives along Routes 4 or 17 during rush hour is likely to use words such as “parking lot” or other more colorful metaphors inappropriate for this blog.

Of course, not everybody subscribes to the idea of the Sunday sabbath. Particularly here in Bergen County, which not only has a large Jewish population, but also a large Orthodox population. To all the shomer Shabbat residents of Bergen who cannot go shopping on Saturdays except after dark (which falls just as the malls close during the summer) the blue laws are seen as discriminatory, particularly since many stores have Saturday-only sales. Despite Bergen’s large Jewish population, the blue laws are welcomed by the residents of Paramus (Jewish and non-Jewish alike) who are thankful for one day of the week they don’t have to deal with the constant flow of traffic into their town.

Every few years or so somebody starts a petition or proposes a law to overturn or loosen the blue law restrictions. And every time the combined voice of Paramus and its surrounding areas shuts down any initiative that threatens their day of quiet.

Hopefully the worsening economic situation will force a reconsideration of Bergen’s blue law restrictions. Perhaps we will see a resurgence of the idea to allow municipalities to opt out, which could lead to Sunday openings in Teaneck, Englewood, and Fair Lawn, while Paramus remains shuttered. These towns would then get much-needed tax boosts and possibly attract new businesses – which would create new jobs and end the recession. And I could finally buy new socks without having to leave the county.

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