March 10, 2002, Sunday


The Ropes Aren't at the Door, but Around the Appliance Section

By CAREN CHESLER (NYT) 572 words

A PROPOSAL to allow towns to opt out of Bergen County's Sunday blue laws has proponents of the laws up in arms. They say the enforced store closings were imposed mainly to reduce traffic, and to impose them inconsistently would undermine the laws' effectiveness.

But the blue laws already lack uniformity. Bergen County's Sunday closing law prohibits the sale of clothing, building materials, furniture, home furnishings and appliances. Yet stores are not prohibited from selling art supplies, boats, books, cameras, cosmetics, drugs, eyeglasses, food, gas, hardware, jewelry, luggage, pet supplies, sporting goods, sneakers, stationery, textiles, toys and wallpaper. Some municipalities, like Paramus, have adopted blue laws that are more restrictive than the county ordinance, creating a patchwork of Sunday shopping rules throughout the county that even residents find hard to follow.

In Edgewater, for instance, books and records can be sold on Sunday while in Paramus they cannot. Pet stores can open Sundays in Teaneck, Hackensack and Bergenfield, yet in Ridgewood and Westwood, they must be shut.

Many stores sell a variety of products, some that can be sold on Sundays and others that cannot. Some store owners rope off certain taboo aisles and others simply tell customers they cannot buy certain items.

Ellen Eber, co-owner of Animations, a Teaneck toy store, said she can sell dolls on Sunday but not clothes for them. Halloween costumes are also off-limits because they are considered apparel.

Pat Solomon, who owns Finishing Touches antique store in Teaneck, said she erred on the side of caution and did not sell items she believes are on the line.

''I can't sell furniture but I can sell antiques, and yet I have antique furniture,'' Ms. Solomon said. ''I just tell people that I will hold it for them and that they should come back on Monday.''

Enforcement is another issue. Mitchell Haber, who owns WOB Lingerie in Teaneck, told of shopping in a local discount store one Sunday, grabbing an item from behind a roped-off area, and the cashier ringing it up with no questions.

The police do not patrol the shops looking for scofflaws. If a storeowner sells a prohibited product, it is often up to the customer or an observer to file a complaint. The store owner could be fined $250 for each violation.

And some residents do file complaints. Paramus's mayor, Cliff Gennarelli, said residents had contacted the police after seeing a contractor work on a neighbor's home, work that is prohibited on Sunday. The police were contacted twice by residents when they saw employees of Sterns department stores working at the company's computer facilities in Paramus on a Sunday; businesses are prohibited by the borough from using computers that day.

In fact Sterns and several other companies, like the commercial office developer Mack Paramus Company, challenged Paramus's computer prohibition in 1988, saying it was inconsistently enforced. The companies complained that the pharmaceutical giant Becton Dickinson, for example, was granted an exception on the grounds that its nationwide computer system was used to route emergency blood supplies and service dialysis machines. United Parcel Services was also allowed to run its computers because it engaged in ''government work.'' As with most court challenges to Bergen County blue laws, the courts upheld the Paramus ordinance.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company