21 Aug 2014
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Op-Ed: Towns Should Dictate Blue Laws

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

Op-Ed: Towns Should Dictate Blue Laws

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.

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