The most restrictive blue laws in North America in Bergen County, New Jersey came about to limit traffic congestion caused by massive retail development. Can Blue Laws be used today to manage traffic, conserve fuel, moderate fuel price increases, and help air quality?
Blue laws restrict commercial activity on Sundays. Historically, these laws have been used to encourage religious observation of Sunday as a Christian day of worship.
Although most states and localities no longer observe blue laws, a handful remain. Sixteen states currently prohibit or restrict car sales on Sundays — and the car dealerships like the restriction. When Colorado tried to lift the car sales blue laws a few years ago, car dealerships fought to keep the laws on the books because the law keeps costs down for all dealerships. Oregon car sellers are now lobbying for a similar law.
Bergen County, New Jersey has the most restrictive blue laws in the United States. When the Bergen Mall and Garden State Plaza were under construction in the late 1950s, fears that the two large new malls would aggravate already severe highway congestion motivated Bergen County residents to forbid almost all selling on Sundays, with the borough of Paramus, New Jersey within Bergen County forbidding all forms of “worldly employment” because “the physical, intellectual and moral good of the community requires a periodic day of rest from labor.”
American visitors to Europe learn fairly quickly that shopping is limited in the evenings and the weekends, especially in Germany with the Ladenschlussgesetz Shop Closing Law.
While I love the convenience in American of buying almost anything at almost any hour of the day or night, closing the shops one day each week would probably reduce traffic and fuel consumption significantly, while also improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. During World War I, automobile dealers supported a ban on gas sales on Sundays to conserve fuel.
There are some problems to my simple idea: tourist destinations and amusements that depend on weekend traffic would perhaps suffer. Observant Jews and Sabbatarian Christians are also impacted, because most of Saturday is already off limits for them.
The various Ciclovia style street closings occur on Sundays, so perhaps vendors that enable non-automotive access to their shops can be exempted. Note also that Bergen County with the most restrictive blue laws in America also boasts the highest retail sales in the United States.
What do you think? Can something like a universal shop closing law be successfully used to conserve fuel (making fuel less expensive for everybody) while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving general air quality, reducing transportation expenses for most Americans and helping the economy?