When Rupa Kale decided she wanted to open her own business, she bought into a franchise based out of Chicago with an unusual concept:
BYOB painting parties.
Kale would play host while her guests would paint and drink wine they'd brought in from home to experience a creative alternative to a night out at the bar.
Ideally, all that would happen in Kale's own studio. But since she launched her Bottle & Bottega franchise in February, she has been forced to use borrowed space from restaurants and other venues while desperately searching out a town in the state willing — and legally able — to take a chance on her business.
“Each township has their own written rules about alcohol, and my biggest challenge I found is that everybody kept sending me in circles,” said Kale, who lives in New Providence. “There was no one that ever had a clear answer.”
On Nov. 16, her search will come — at least for the moment — to an end, when Kale is set to open a temporary studio space in Maplewood, one of the only towns so far to smile on her business model.
“That was a terrific experience, but some of the other zoning experiences left a lot to be desired,” Kale said.
In Westfield, her first choice, she spent two months chasing the one local official she had to track down to get any possible approvals. He never returned her calls or met with her face to face when she showed up in person, she said.
In Millburn, the BYOB part of Bottle & Bottega wasn't the problem, but rather the fact that she's a service business. The town's zoning laws are old, she said, and just don't allow for companies like hers.
Kale's difficulties are not unique.
Businesses of all sizes and from all industries struggle with the individual rules and regulations in New Jersey's 565 municipalities. The process of dealing with local zoning and planning boards can cost tens of thousands of dollars — and after all that, approvals can still be elusive.
It's a process John Giunco, a shareholder with the law firm of Giordano Halleran & Ciesla in Red Bank and Trenton, knows well. His typical client is much larger than Kale's painting business, but he said the issues are usually similar.
“It does impede business. All these costs impede business. The process impedes business,” Giunco said. “In a recessionary time, you'd think these towns would be saying (yes to everyone).”
Ed Purcell, the staff attorney with the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, said it's not that simple.
“Clearly municipalities are striving to promote business,” he said “However, the state legislature has given them the ability to regulate a lot of commercial activities.
“Alcohol is a real concern to a lot of residents and local government leaders, and that's why these ordinances are in place,” Purcell said.
Kale eventually pulled in an attorney to help her navigate the murky waters of different municipalities.
Westfield was definitely out, but she did give some serious thought to working around Millburn's zoning laws so she could set up shop there. The town was a perfect fit for her business, but when she calculated the time and cost involved in getting a variance, she was looking at six to eight months and a $10 to $12,000 investment. Even then, Millburn could have said no.
“Every township sees different potential in different businesses,” Kale said. “I need a town that's amiable.”
She has found that in Maplewood, although her 700-square-foot studio space there is only temporary. When she looks for permanent accommodations, a space with at least double that amount of square footage, Summit could be another option. They too have given her the all-clear to open and, hopefully, grow her business, which has already put on more than 100 events since February.
“People really love it, so I'm not just doing a lot of public events. I'm doing a lot of private events,” she said. “Business has been booming. It's been phenomenal.”
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