Monday, March 17, 2008

I've Complied

Well, not in a bad way. In order to open a business in the Town of Newton, or anywhere in NJ, a certificate of compliance must be given. But, it is not something just "given", one sometimes has to jump through hoops. I'm finding opening a business to be a bit trickier due to the lack of information provided by the town.

Newton just received a Main Street designation which will be great for the town and hopefully my new studio. It's a label given to towns who show potential and community unity in improving. With it comes access to special grants for development and an executive director to pull together volunteers to move forward and bring businesses to revitalize the town.

While I got in on the "ground floor" so to speak, the town has yet to streamline their procedures and make it easy for entrepreneurs. So, I found out from the town that I needed to apply for a certificate of compliance, basically a form that then permits the building inspector to tour my space and make certain I've done nothing illegal and it's safe for customers/clients. This certainly makes sense. However, after I filled out my form, the town called and told me that my building use code suggests a change of use and I would have to have my architect fax information to the town.

Well, at that point, my heart was palpitating and I didn't know who to turn to. My husband was on a business trip and I wasn't certain this was a question for the lawyer (and I didn't want to pay an additional fee). I thought long and hard and starting calling some of the local women business owners I've come to know - Kathy Millici of 24 Karat Designs, Kristie Becker of Cheddar Alley, Linda Hirsch of SCA&HC and Joan Salvas of Gallery by the Green. It was amazing how they all wanted to help me. Ultimately, after talking to Joan she suggested that maybe I had used the wrong term to denote my gallery aspect of my studio. On the application I listed my business as gallery, studio and lessons. What I didn't know, was that by stating gallery, the state in its building codes considers a gallery as a space for entertainment only and requires special building features such as sprinklers! All I needed to do was change the term gallery to retail of art.

Joan was right, that was the problem. Unfortunately, the definitions of codes are not provided by the town nor do they mention considering how you define your business. I was being very literal, but by doing so they interpreted the term as something very different than my intent. Ultimately it was all semantics. I've since received my certificate of compliance and we are painting the studio.

I'm hoping in the future the town through Main Street Newton, Inc. will give business owners a checklist with requirements to open a business and maybe a list of resources to look into. All in all I'm moving forward and I've heard much worse stories -- this only delayed my progress about half a week.

This shows the importance of networking and building a coalition of business owners with whom you can lean on for suggestions and resources. Without them, I might still be fumbling around.

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