Saturday, April 12, 2008

Sunday Brunch With Spirits Now Legal


Current story, May 28, 2008, Vol.16, No. 35, p.1, 10

Somers Point Sunday Morning Liquor Sales – William Kelly

Somers Point City Council took the quiet, but surprising move of extending the time allotted for the sale of liquor on Sunday from noon to 9 am.

The new Sunday hours, according to councilman who voted unanimously for it, have been reset in order to stimulate some new business and put Somers Point on an even keel with Atlantic City, Margate and other towns with restaurants that offer a Bloody Mary with their Eggs Benedict.

Primarily for the benefit of the Sunday brunch crowd who like to have breakfast after Church, owners of most Somers Point restaurants said that the change won’t affect them at all.

The man behind the move, the president of the Economic Advisory Commission, Andrew Malson, took a survey and found most businesses didn’t need an early start on Sundays, but others, like Great Bay Golf Club, find it convenient since they offer breakfast every day of the week and special Sunday Brunches on Mothers Day and other holidays.

Without any opposition, the suggestion to permit liquor sales at 10 am was amended to 9 am. Some shore resorts permit Sunday sales as early as 8 am and some, like Atlantic City, are open all night. The reason, as explained by Councilman Patrick Bingham, was to benefit local businesses and give them an advantage in competition with similar businesses in neighboring towns.

Both the Crab Trap and the Anchorage, the two top restaurants in town, begin serving lunch at 11 am on Sundays, and don’t plan on doing anything different anytime soon. Charlie’s has always opened early for the fishermen, and will keep them from going to Maynards in Margate, as they used to do when Sunday mornings were dry in Somers Point.

Gregory’s, which used to open at 12 noon on Sundays, now offers a Sunday breakfast beginning at 9 am, featuring a choice of eggs any style, pancakes or French toast for $7. Gregarious Greg Gregory, co-owner, serves as bartender and waiter until the regular bartender arrives at 11 am, and says that they have been serving more each week and expect it to be a new popular tradition that might catch on.

It is nevertheless, an historic change and a sensitive issue in Somers Point since the Sunday blue laws were enacted statewide.

In 1908, a century ago, the Republican governor of New Jersey John F. Fort threatened to send the National Guard to close the saloons on Sunday, and when they finally closed, everybody went to Somers Point.

News accounts of the day reported that, “When Atlantic City closed up Somers Point did a big business. Trolleys carried thousands there for a dime, and the half dozen taverns in the little town took in profits enough in twelve to pay rent and other expenses for a year. When Governor Fort’s Commissioners discovered, however, that Somers Point, which is the home of County Juge Higbee, had continued ‘wet’ on Sundays thorugh the winter and evidently intended to remain so, they gave utterance to remark so much to the Point that the Judge gave the saloon men of his home town to understand that Somers Point would have to close, no matter what happened in Atlantic City.”

And now Somers Point is wet again on Sunday mornings.

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SIDEBAR on 1908.

In August 1908, Governor John F. Fort threatened to call out the National Guard if Atlantic City didn’t observe the law on Sunday sales of liquor and other vices. One headline read: “THREAT OF MILITIA FOR ATLANTIC CITY.”

“Gov. Fort Makes Sensational Attack on Sunday Law Violators at That Resort”

“OFFICIALS ARE TRAITORS” the newspapers said blazing headlines.

“Will Call Special Session of Legislature Unless Law Is Obeyed”

As the newspapers reported, “Gov. Fort of New Jersey issued yesterday what amounts to a proclamation to the people of the State on the non-enforcement in Atlantic City of the Bishops' law forbidding the sale of liquor on Sunday.”

“In it he declares that if the resort is ‘open’ on Sunday next he will order the convening of a special session of the State Legislature, of which he will ask that they appropriate money to put the National Guard in Atlantic City to enforce the law, or that they pass legislation which will place the drawing of juries in the hands of an independent commission, or to authorize the courts or the Governor to remove, after hearing, all officials who willfully refuse to do their duty.”

“Simultaneously with this sensational declaration of the Governor on August l, a Grand Jury of Atlantic County, at Mays Landing, was urged by Supreme Court Justice Thomas W. Trenchard after reporting that they had found no indictments for violations of the excise law,….declared that he had been informed by County Prosecutor Clarence I. Goldenberg and Assistant Attorney general Elson Gaskill, the order of Fort to assist in the presentation of the excise cases, that the evidence was sufficient to procure indictments, and added, ‘You have failed to your duties.’”


According to the reports, “Gov. Fort's attack came unexpectedly and created a sensation in Atlantic City. His statement assails the ruling of a city without mercy, depicting boldly the conditions there existing. The governor’s declaration was given out at the summer capital at Sea Girt and reads as follows: Gov Fort's Indictment.

"The State Excise Commission in at Atlantic City on the third day of August last took testimony and heard which it can safely be said all good citizens of the State have read all the evidence taken and all the talks and suggestions made before the commission… questioned the act that street walking, gambling, houses or' ill-fame, people of ill-repute, obscene, and open violations of the excise laws existed in Atlantic City.”

“Leading citizen said before that commission: ‘The citizens are alarmed that it is case it is now, and conditions are something terrible right here at the present time in this city. Never in the history of the city has it been worse. Never have the street walkers been worse than they have been recently. Never has gambling been more open and more of it in the city than it is right now…The Police Department and officials of the city all know it, they are all aware of it, or could find it out if they wanted to. If there was some little regard for the law, some little regulation of those, we would not have these troubles with us.’”

"After reading this evidence I inquired and found that all that was said was true, that the officials knew of the crimes end criminals, of the violations of the mad gambling laws, of the lewd and obscene pictures, but that they refused to do anything to better conditions. In fact as to excise conditions, in respect to the Sunday law, they not only refused, but have admitted that they were aiding abuse of these laws. These officials have been notified. The Justice of the Supreme Court presiding in that circuit has called the Grand Jury and in twenty-six cases of excise relations have been presented … and the Grand jury adjourns …, in fact, it is asserted that no Grand Jury will indict, and if it were to do no petit jury would convict.”

"The admitted conditions amount to an Ebombination of officials and certain citizens to subvert the State laws -- in a word, treason against the State."

As the Governor of the State, charged with the duty to see that all the laws are enforced, the following communication was sent to the Sheriff of the count, Smith E. Johnson, on Aug. 11: In reading your before the Commission, taken in Atlantic City the other day, your ideas of the duties of the Sheriff of a county are most fearing. If these ideas are to go that other Sheriffs in the State may get the impression that you have rightfully stated a Sheriffs duty, as well as for other reasons, I write you this letter. The Sheriff of a county is at the head of the constabulary of the county. He has the power to suppress vice and to detect crime, and he not only has the power, but it is his duty to do so. He should not some one tells if a criminal act and of a violation of the law, but he should seek out offenders and endeavor to suppress their practices. A Sheriff who does not see because he is a fool is just as guilty of doing as one who does see but will not act. There is no difference in the degree of wrong doing. You do not pretend that you do not know; in fact you state in your evidence that you believe that the law is constantly violated. You do not deny that you know that gambling houses and places of ill- repute exist, and other violations of the law are constantly occurring not only upon Sunday, but upon every day in your county. You seem to think that all you need to do is to hide behind the fact that no one - a complaint, and that no writ is entered to you to be executed. If this is your conscience it does not the law.”

“You are entitled a Sheriff of the county to the support of the State in enforcing the law. If you call for it the executive of the State will gladly lend all the power of the State. If you are unable to break up these places, after an effort to do so, the State will gladly lend its aid to the extent, if necessary, of giving you its entire citizen soldiery to assist you. No Sheriff claims the right to distinguish between grades of crime. All crime stands before the laws in the same light. When the Legislature declares a thing to be wrong, and calls for the punishment of the wrongdoer, it is the duty of the Sheriff, and every other officer charged with the keeping of the laws, to see that those guilty are brought to Justice.”

“ It is quite possible that you know all about conditions in your city, not only with regard to Sunday violations, but the worse of the law in the form of gambling and crimes…in addition the evidence taken before the Excise Commission, made by a member who visited your city, which shows that it is very easy to discover the real conditions as they exist in Atlantic City.”

“They, without difficulty, obtained entrance into those places and put themselves in possession of the facts. You admit, in your testimony, that the authorities are under your control; that they would, if you give the order, close these places, and yet you do not give that order. Every law of New Jersey must be enforced. It cannot be that you are not interested in Atlantic City. It must be that you wish to see it prosper and maintain confidence, as it is the great ocean resort of our State.”

“It is attractive in every way. Its future is promising in a degree, and yet if present conditions are allowed to continue and the character of vice and crime that there exists is permitted to people of repute will be compelled to refuse to go there. You do not want this, the State of New Jersey does not want this, and the people of Atlantic City surely do not want this.”

“The laws of the State bear equally upon all the people of the State. They are not sectional, to be enforced in one place and not enforced in another. They must be enforced everywhere. If you cannot enforce all laws in Atlantic City and will simply drop me a line to that effect, I will enforce the laws in Atlantic City as the Governor of the State. There will be no difficulty to do it.”

“The criminal will run away from the law every time when he understands that the law is to be enforced. Nor do I believe it true that the Grand Juries of Atlantic County will not indict if you and the authorities make the complaint. The present Grand Jury, which is still subject to call and not been discharged, I am informed indicted in every gambling case that was brought before them at the last term, and one of the members of that Grand Jury informs me that they stand ready to find indictments in every case where the evidence is brought to their attention.”

“You have occupied the office of yours in Atlantic City for many years. You owe the people of that city something, and as the Executive of the State, I appeal to you to enforce the law or notify me that you cannot enforce it and request that the Stats shall do it.”

“Both of these letters were admittedly received. The Sheriff replied in a perfunctory letter containing no promise of aid. The Mayor has not replied. He called upon me after receiving the letter, but no suggestions or promises of action.”

“Somers Point was also found to be ‘open’ by the Excise Commission…The Judge of the County Court … called upon me and said he stood ready to aid in every way to enforce the law. The Grand Jury is now in session. It is not believed it will indict in excise if the following affidavit is presented to the people of the State that they may see the reason why. The Grand Jury appears not only to be largely composed of those who are in sympathy with the Sunday violators of the criminal laws, but to have upon it men who are violating the law while they are in actual service as Grand Juror.”

"The Chief of Police will not act because the Mayor will not so order. He refuses to do so. The Grand Jury will not indict because they are directly or indirectly controlled by the liquor powers.”

"In Newark, Jersey City, Hoboken, Paterson, Trenton, Elizabeth, Long Branch, Asbury Park, Cape May and other places the excise law is reasonably well observed on Sunday because it is enforced by the officials. There can be no discrimination in the enforcement of the law. One city may not be kept open on Sunday to get pecuniary gain by violating the laws while other must close. This question rises higher than Republicanism or Democracy, higher than prohibition or local option; none of these questions are of concern; it is simply this: Shall the people of the State stand by and see the laws nullified by one place in the State in defiance of the courts, the Executive of the State and of all authority? State law is applicable to all the people, and all must obey it. Any other rule leads to anarchy.”

"This statement is put out that the people may know and understand the real conditions, in order that public sentiment can be voiced and public or approval be expressed. If a law is objectionable the remedy is not to destroy and nullify it, but to repeal it. The sale of liquors on Sunday has been prohibited by the laws of New Jersey from Colonial times. The penalty for it is $1,000 fine and three years in State Prison, or either, or both. Relief against this can only come through legislation. It is abhorrent to all ideas of republican government that one locality shall asses its right to not to obey the law while all others are in obedience. Two methods suggest themselves as a remedy when the officials refuse and the courts of law are powerless to the wrongdoers. The threat to use soldiers.

"First call out the militia and police the city with soldiers and close up the illegal places by the military arm of the State. This amounts to martial law. As the Executive of the State I dislike to order such extreme measures without an appropriation to cover the expense first made by the Legislature or some great emergency. "Second to call the Legislature together to grant an appropriation to cover the cost of the military in case it is called out, or to enact legislation to place the drawing of all juries in the hands of a commission, that fair men may be selected for this duty; and also to authorize the Governor or the courts to remove, after hearing, officials who willfully….refuse to do their duty.”

"This address to the people of the State is issued that the violators of the law at Atlantic City and the officials who stand by and refuse to prevent or punish such violators may be warned of the fact that in case of their further refusals to enforce or obey the law the Legislature will be convened to meet the emergency.”

"If a successful effort is not made by the officials and citizens of Atlantic City to enforce the Sunday law against the sale of liquor beginning on Sunday next, Aug. 30. I hereby, by this public statement, notify the citizens of the State that I shall issue a proclamation calling an extraordinary session of the Legislature of the State that legislation may be enacted under which the laws of the State may be enforced in all places and equally upon all the people in the State and I call upon all good people in and without regard to party, creed, or citizenship, to take steps to voice their sentiments upon the all-absorbing issue now before the people of the State, namely, shall the laws of the State be obeyed?”


News reports of the day say Governor Fort’s declaration was a surprise as it was noted that, “Gov. Fort's letter regarding excise affairs and law enforcement at Atlantic City was received with much surprise in Newark. It was not generally believed that the Governor anticipated finding… positive action so soon, or until the local officials' had had time to show their power. Politicians for the most part were glad to hear of the message, the feeling in the Northern part of the State being that if one section were made to obey the stringent provisions of the Bishops' law which forbids Sunday opening of saloons, the enforcement should be general.”

And now 100 years later, you can have a Momosa, Screwdriver or Bloody Mary with your Breakfast in Somers Point.

[Bill Kelly can be reached at ]