New task force takes on local business codes in village

Photo by Amanda Valentovic
South Orange’s Business Code Review Task Force discusses business and liquor license reform laws at SOPAC on July 31.

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Members of the South Orange business community gathered at the South Orange Performing Arts Center on July 31 to discuss the changing state liquor laws as well as modifications to the village’s retail and business codes.

The codes, which have been in place since the early 1980s, sometimes prevent business owners who want to set up shop in South Orange from doing so, according to the South Orange Village Center Alliance Executive Director Bob Zuckerman. The village formed a Business Code Review Task Force to update the laws, with members of the administration and business owners making up the panel.

“Our municipal code is very old and hasn’t been reviewed since the early 1980s,” Zuckerman said at the forum. “We’ve heard from a lot of people that South Orange is a tough place to do business in.”

The panel discussed several issues, among them how best to place businesses in multistory buildings. The task force is trying to determine what businesses would be better served on the first floor of a building as opposed to the second floor, and vice versa. For example, a business with employees and customers entering and exiting often would ideally be located on the first floor, while another business with minimal foot traffic would thrive upstairs.

The panel also discussed signage and advertising. Currently, 10 percent of a commercial window can have signs in it, but the task force considering the impact on the village should that percentage be increased.

The task force is also taking on the mission of trying to open more diverse businesses in town. An online survey conducted said that residents of South Orange want new retail stores and dine-in restaurants.

“Eighty-one percent of the people who took that survey said it was important to attract new retail businesses,” Zuckerman said.

The codes that are currently in place in South Orange prohibit businesses like arcades from opening downtown, as well as children’s gyms and other similar businesses. Zuckerman and other members of the task force visited towns such as Morristown, Summit and Asbury Park to see how their downtowns are developing. They found that the most important factor in having a thriving business district is providing an experience that online shopping cannot offer. Places with activities are attractive to consumers.

“Once you apply to one, you apply to all,” village President Sheena Collum said at the forum about why there are often many types of the same business in town. “We don’t want businesses to stop opening here because the codes are old.”

Ben Salmon, owner of Kitchen a la Mode on South Orange Avenue and a member of the task force, said that new retail businesses coming into South Orange would help his own.

“Retention is important,” Salmon said, “but bringing in new businesses is a huge goal of the alliance. It would help my business.”

The second half of the meeting was reserved for discussion about New Jersey’s changing liquor laws and how they will affect South Orange. State Assemblyman John Burzichelli is trying to pass a bill that would create new taxes on business liquor licenses and change what kinds of licenses businesses can buy.

“Many stakeholders say we’re losing our competitive edge to New York City and Philadelphia,” Zuckerman said. “A lot of people are arguing for reform that would change economic development, it could add a billion dollars in revenue and be more competitive with the cities.”

The new licensing would also allow for more craft breweries and wineries to open in the state.

It is not yet clear whether the new liquor laws will affect South Orange. The Business Code Review Task Force is planning future meetings to address the issue and further discuss code changes.

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