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Thanksgiving Store Closings Lauded in Watchung

Newly passed ordinance worked to control crowds outside stores like Walmart, officials said.

Watchung’s new Black Friday ordinance, which closed all retail stores in town from 10 p.m. to midnight Thanksgiving night, worked, borough officials said.

"Watchung is on to something,” Councilwoman Debra Joren said at last week's Borough Council meeting. “I think we did the right thing.”

The ordinance, adopted earlier this year, was drafted to avoid crowd-control problems when shoppers rush the doors of stores for sales.  In 2011, there was what was described as a “near riot” during Thanksgiving night’s special sales at Walmart in the Watchung Square Mall.

Despite its objections when the ordinance was being considered, Walmart complied with all aspects of the ordinance, Joren said.

About 3,000 to 4,000 shoppers waited outside the store for the doors to open at midnight, she said.

The shoppers were kept behind barricades to maintain orderly movement. There were also portable lavatories in the parking lot.

“It was orderly,” Joren said. “Everyone was safe.”

Walmart added security guards for the night, she said.

"It was the most cooperative and safest Black Friday,” she added.

Councilman Stephen Pote, who was at Walmart from 10:15 p.m. to 1:15 a.m. on Thanksgiving night, said borough police did a “phenomenal job.” He also thanked members of the rescue squad and fire department who stood by at the scene.

Police Chief Timothy Wenzel thanked the borough council for enacting the ordinance. “We just wanted a safe night,” he said.

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