Camden late-night store curfew on hold

Posted: July 07, 2013

Need a sugar high while in Camden at 3 a.m.?

Slurpees and other foods and drinks may be temporarily sold 24/7 in Camden, a state Appellate Court judge ruled this week.

After a Camden County trial judge upheld the city's business curfew ordinance in April, 7-Eleven requested a motion to stay, or put the ordinance on hold, until the company appealed the case in court.

Initially, 7-Eleven was unsuccessful. Camden County Superior Court Judge Faustino Fernandez-Vina, who decided the curfew case in April, denied the motion in May.

On Monday, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey granted a motion to 7-Eleven, mandating that Camden hold off on enforcing its business curfew.

This puts the brakes on the city's effort to shut down businesses early, which officials say is a crime-fighting strategy, especially in the hot summer months, when crime tends to spike.

The city claims that if businesses close earlier, there will be fewer people loitering and less crime.

The city's business curfew ordinance, passed in 2011, was challenged in court by 7-Eleven, a city activist, and some take-out restaurant owners, calling it unconstitutional and saying it would put some late-night eateries out of business. Since the city won in trial court in April, it has been posting fliers and sending letters to business owners warning them of the new hours of operation.

"We will comply with the court order, but we believe we have put forward a comprehensive ordinance that is fair to all our residents and businesses," city spokesman Robert Corrales said Friday.

The ordinance requires businesses within 200 feet of residential zones to adhere to the following hours:

Sunday-Thursday, from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Friday and Saturday, from 6 a.m. to midnight.

The curfew does not apply to pharmacies or businesses holding liquor licenses or selling fuel.

However, gas station mini-marts within 200 feet of residential zones will have to close. This includes a few along Admiral Wilson Boulevard, a main artery linking South Jersey and Philadelphia.

7-Eleven's two East Camden stores - which follow 7-Eleven's 24/7 model - would be affected by the curfew, as would a number of small Chinese take-outs and Crown Fried Chicken restaurants throughout the city. The city has yet to provide a list of businesses that would be affected.

Since February 2011, city officials have been citing a correlation between crime and late-night stores. City Council approved the ordinance in August 2011, and legal challenges began immediately.

City activist Frank Fulbrook has fought the city every time it tried to pass a business curfew, including this time. In 1998 and 2006, he successfully blocked similar ordinances.

But with a new judge this time, Fulbrook wasn't so lucky.

In his decision upholding the curfew, Fernandez-Vina said that the business owners who sued and testified failed to show evidence of financial hardship as a result of closing early. The judge called the ordinance "a valid exercise of police power by a governing body."

Fulbrook, who lives in the Cooper Grant neighborhood and rents to Rutgers-Camden students, says his fight is for "economic freedom."

7-Eleven's attorneys have called the ordinance "overly broad and unconstitutional."

On Friday, Fulbrook said he would be meeting with his attorney, John Calzaretto, to discuss their appeal.

The appellate court said it would accelerate the case, but it still might not be until fall that hearings begin, said Andrew Bayer, attorney for 7-Eleven.

The new 7-Eleven on the first floor of the Rutgers-Camden student housing building on Cooper Street is exempt from the curfew. The area around Rutgers-Camden is zoned university, not residential.


Contact Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917 or cvargas@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @InqCVargas. Read her blog, "Camden Flow," at www.philly.com/camden_flow

|
|
|
|
|