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LOWER TOWNSHIP - Police are picking winners and losers, enforcing which stores fit into the “essential” category and telling those not “essential” enough to close or head to jail. 

“The fact that we sell food should have ensured we weren’t shut down. However, we were,” said Daniel Hume, an owner of the gift shop at Sunset Beach.

According to Hume, a single Lower Township Police officer arrived on site May 16 and told the store owners to shut things down or put their hands behind their back. The police didn’t offer an explanation, no higher ranking member of the department came to the scene to explain and they were never called ahead of time to ask why they were open or told there was a problem with it, he said. 

Lower Township Police did not return a call from the Herald seeking comment. 

“We thought we were opening up legitimately,” said Hume. “We’ve carried food products here the last 20 years.”

Hume said his family’s business spent thousands of dollars ordering hand sanitizer, a product they had already sold and ordered face masks. He estimates 20 percent of his business is food.

“We don’t want to be martyrs. At the end of the day, we’re blessed with a wonderful location and we can hang in there a little longer. Our heart goes out to a lot of other stores all throughout Cape May County, and across the country, that may never recover from this.” 

Hume said he will still have to be at work whether the store is open or not, to patrol the tourist attraction, clean up after people and keep things safe. That will be harder to sustain without any income from the shop. 

“This whole situation really begs the question as to who determines what is essential. Once the determination is made, what recourse do private citizens have? Is the law being applied equitably to all businesses?” asked Hume. 

There is no time table for when the gift shop will reopen and the shop owners are hiring legal counsel which they hope will lead to some clarity about why they do or do not fit in as an “essential business”. Hume said he has no gripe with police, but would have appreciated more courtesy or an explanation. 

“I have three kids. I don’t really want to be hauled off to jail for reopening,” said Hume.

To contact Shay Roddy, email sroddy@cmcherald.com.