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Chafing at Christie's blue law ban, Paramus mayor lists what can be sold Sunday, threatens penalties for violators

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As of now, all stores in Westfield Garden State Plaza will open on Sunday, but a state retail industry executive said the mall is receiving mixed messages from Paramus officials. (Bergen.com)
As of now, all stores in Westfield Garden State Plaza will open on Sunday, but a state retail industry executive said the mall is receiving mixed messages from Paramus officials. (Bergen.com)

Saying his town's shoppers are no longer in need after Hurricane Sandy, Paramus Mayor Richard LaBarbiera made a clear line in the sand about what can be sold in his Bergen County town this Sunday if a blue laws ban is in effect: furniture, appliances and sneakers are OK, but basketballs and $800 high heels are not.

"I told our two Sports Authoritys and our Dick's (Sporting Goods) that if they open up on Sunday and sell sports clothing and sneakers, I think the executive order provides for them to do that. But if they're selling basketballs or fishing equipment, the blue laws will be strictly enforced and they'll have to face the consequences," LaBarbiera said.

LaBarbiera promised fines and possible arrest for any retailers that sell the wrong goods.

"The stores will be expected to limit sales to specific items on Sunday, and if they do not, then there will be strict enforcement of the blue laws, which includes a fine and might also include arrest," said LaBarbiera. "We will be going around making sure every store and every mall tenant complies with the rules that only certain items can be sold, and I pity the tenant that willfully continues to sell products that aren't covered within the limits of the law that was written."

LaBarbiera was reacting to an executive order by Gov. Chris Christie suspending Bergen County's blue laws, which normally prohibit retail stores from being open on Sundays. Christie's edict, aiming to help state residents recovering from the superstorm, was effective Nov. 3 and is expected to remain law until the governor rescinds it or the hurricane-related emergency order for New Jersey is lifted.

LaBarbiera said he is communicating with Bergen County executives — whose petition to temporarily suspend the blue laws led Christie to issue his executive order — in an effort to "re-evaluate the ban before the weekend comes," and he noted "everyone is on the same page in questioning the need for the suspension at this point … and while we recognize necessities must be provided, we're finding the people that are in the stores are not truly in need anymore."

John Holub, president of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association, has said if Paramus officials block any retailer from operating on Nov. 11 while the executive order is still intact, the municipality will be "clearly in violation" of Christie's executive order.

"Clearly, the executive order that says any retailer can be open on Sunday until further notice covers all of BergenCountyand trumps any local ordinance. Unfortunately, retailers are now hearing very conflicting messages from Paramus officials — everything from not being allowed to be opened on Sunday or they'll be fined, to selling only certain products like clothes and electronics," said Holub. "That's great if people out there need clothes to stay warm, but it doesn't make any sense. Right now retailers are active participants in responding to the recovery, and the last thing they need is confusion from their local government officials."

But LaBarbiera said the order is "not as liberal as the retail association would like to believe," as he noted its language "specifically applies to selling items deemed as necessary to address the needs of people who received damage, like furniture, clothing and appliances — not selling someone a pair of Christian Louboutins at Nordstrom for $800."

LaBarbiera said he recently called the municipalities' three malls and "told them to be cautious" about selling inventory aside from clothing and appliances on Sunday if the blue laws waiver is still in effect.

"Walls are not bursting at the seams, which I think is a testament to the fact that there's no great need here for retail on Sunday," LaBarbiera said. "We're very happy thatParamushas been able to come through this disaster as quickly as we have, and that's why it's important for us to talk to the governor's office and the county executives to tell them there's not a need for this executive order anymore."

Holub said as long as the municipality is under a state of emergency, officials should allow retailers to sell their inventories to customers without limitation.

"This is the second year in a row, considering the blue laws were still in effect before and after (Hurricane) Irene last year, that people are not allowed to go to stores inParamus to prepare for a storm or recover after a storm," Holub said. "This just shows the absurdity of the overall blue laws to begin with, but for now, Paramus officials need to understand we're in state of emergency and extreme conditions, and they need to comply with Gov. Christie's executive order."

Gerald Dergen, a concierge at Westfield Garden State Plaza, in Paramus, said as of 1 p.m. Tuesday, every store in the mall will be open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, though he noted "that may change if another update from Paramus officials comes out later on in the day or the week."

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