Bergen County is famous for a few things in particular: malls, traffic, The Real Housewives of New Jersey. But Bergen County’s blue laws may be the most famous of all.
It’s one of the last locations in the country to have such laws, but even Bergen County residents don’t totally understand them, let alone Jersey folk who live elsewhere. Heck, even Alex Trebek was confused when a Jeopardy answer on Bergen County’s blue laws came up on Tuesday. The host noted that the blue laws ban retailers from selling anything on Sundays which is, of course, not true.
Video courtesy of NorthJersey.com
How exactly does the blue law work? If you’re a retailer, you can’t sell things like clothes or shoes or what may be deemed non-essential on a Sunday. You can buy food, medicine and even beer and wine, but not hard liquor (in most cases). Confused yet?
As someone who grew up in Bergen County, here’s what I do know. When I was bartending in Fair Lawn at a bowling alley and a dad asked me for a Budweiser on a Sunday before noon, I had to turn him down. At the 24-hour Walmart in Teterboro, the clothing section of the store is roped off, leaving just the supermarket section open to customers. If you head to Rite Aid in Hasbrouck Heights to buy a corkscrew on a Sunday, you’ll be turned away. Need to shop for birthday gifts, a winter jacket or shoes? You’ll need to head to Garden State Plaza in Paramus on Saturday along with everyone and their mother to get your shopping list taken care of while you can.
The gigantic pro of the blue laws, as far as I’m concerned, is being able to fly down Route 17 on a Sunday without a drop of congestion. Plus, if you work in retail, it’s a guaranteed day off.
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, the name “blue law” may have come from the list of strict Sabbath day rules printed on blue paper in Samuel A. Peter’s General History of Connecticut. Or it could be that in the 18th century, the word “blue” meant “rigidly moral.”
If you couldn’t tell, Puritans had everything to do with the banning of secular pleasantries such as buying alcohol and shopping. That’s probably why so many non-religious and non-Christian people in NJ feel inconvenienced by the laws rather than grateful for them.
It’s no surprise that there have been a number of attempts to lift them; it’s hard to fit all your mall-ratting into one Saturday, especially if you’re already exhausted from looking for a parking spot–which is no small feat at the Garden State Plaza. Granted the laws also have supporters who see the regulations as a protest of over-commercialization (which definitely has some merit if you live in Hackensack and it takes you forever to get to Paramus Park, another mall in Paramus, on any day but Sunday).
No matter how you feel about the blue laws, the Garden State is known nationally for resilience, perhaps above all else (that’s what your Jersey Strong bumper sticker is all about!). So if you need to shop on a Sunday, you’ll make the trip to Willowbrook Mall in Wayne and do what you have to do. After all, if you can endure Bergen’s cost of living, you can surely wait another week to do your shopping.