Bergen County Blue Laws Restrict Sunday Holiday Shopping

December 16, 2013 | Around NJ
The holiday season is the busiest shopping time and Bergen County businesses are restricted from opening Sundays.

By Erin Pedrini
Web Production Assistant

Those looking to do retail shopping in Bergen County on Sundays are out of luck since the county has Blue Laws that do not allow those businesses to open that day, even during the busy holiday shopping season.
The holiday season is the busiest time of the year for businesses and shopping. In Bergen County, Blue Laws restrict businesses from opening on Sundays. This causes residents of the county to either get their holiday shopping done during the other six days of the week or to go to other counties on Sundays.

Blue Laws prohibit businesses from selling clothing or wearing apparel, building and lumber supply materials, furniture, home or business or office furnishings and appliances, on Sundays.

The law is year round, so that prohibits stores from opening on Sundays even during the holiday season. Philip Kirschner, president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said that the businesses that he has talked to in the county have said for the most part, they make up for the lost sales on Sundays in stronger sales on Saturdays. Those businesses also save the cost of opening on Sundays, paying operating costs for the day and paying employees to be there.

“I don’t hear a lot about it being a weakness in the economy,” Kirschner said.

As far as the impact on large versus small businesses, Kirschner said that he would think that small businesses may be effected a little bit more than larger chain businesses.

Small businesses are not typically located in shopping malls, where the larger chain businesses are located. During the holiday season, shopping malls are usually very crowded and have extended holiday hours. When asked if small businesses being located outside of the malls help or hurt small business, New Jersey Director of the National Federation of Independent Business Laurie Ehlbeck said that small businesses are easier to access and there is less traffic to get to them.

“My members believe that they gain customers being away from the mall. Generally, they offer unique items that make their shop a destination and customers more likely to purchase,” Ehlbeck said.

The addition of online shopping becoming so popular also has an effect on businesses and the residents of Bergen County. Residents can still shop online on Sundays for the items that are restricted from being sold in stores.

“Online shopping has taken a lot of pressure off of the Blue Laws. When the Blue Laws started, you had to physically go to a store and you don’t have to do that any more,” Kirschner said.

Almost every large business and chain business has a website that consumers can order from. Small businesses have been keeping up with the internet shopping as well.

“Many small businesses are realizing that in order to remain competitive, they have to create websites. They are also taking advantage of social media,” Ehlbeck said.

When it comes to being a supporter or opponent of the Blue Laws, Kirschner said, “Most people that I talk to like the fact that there is a day of relative quiet and they know that is sort of crazy in the area on Saturdays. It is a lot quieter on Sundays and the traffic is a lot less.”

There is Facebook group called “We support the amazing blue laws of Bergen County, NJ.” This group supports the laws and on their page, they write, “Bergen County, NJ has numerous times, thru county referendum, decided to keep the ‘Blue Laws – Sunday closing’ for quality of life reasons that we have enjoyed for more than half a century. These great laws are here to stay forever, and hope that many other places follow the same giving most people a day of rest in this stressful life people have nowadays.”

Not everyone feels that way about the Blue Laws. There have been efforts in past years to put a vote on ballots to abolish the Blue Laws. Although those were unsuccessful, there is a group called Modernize Bergen County that would like to get rid of the restrictions. On the group’s Facebook page, it states, “One of the last remaining Sunday closing laws in the United States is found in Bergen County, New Jersey. One of the largest and most popular commercial shopping cores of the New York Metropolitan area is almost completely closed on Sunday.”

Kirschner said, “It is going to be a continuing issue because Blue Laws and Bergen County are unique because around the country, they are dwindling. Bergen has hung in there for quite some time and I don’t see the support yet to change it.”

As for the NFIB’s opinion on the Blue Laws, Elhbeck said, “We do not have an official position on the Blue Laws, but generally small business owners want to do what is most convenient for their customers and if people want to shop on Sundays, they should be able to do that.”

There are people that believe if a business wants to be open, then it should be allowed to do so and if a business does not want to be open on Sundays, then it can remain closed. In theory, it sounds like a win-win for everyone. Kirschner pointed out that it would not work because if one business chooses to open, its competitors must open, regardless of if they want to or not, because they risk losing their customers to their competitors if they are closed.

As of now, there are no ballot referendums scheduled and the Blue Laws are intact in Bergen County. Residents can still go to surrounding counties, for malls and other small businesses, to do their holiday shopping on Sundays.

No matter what day Bergen County residents must get their holiday shopping accomplished, the small businesses in that county are not forgotten about, according to Ehlbeck. “At the end of the day, the great service and unique items or services keep customers coming back,” she said.