Stewart’s Lose License
We were curious to hear the outcome of the administrative hearing that took place on Monday regarding Stewart’s Root Beer on the Washington Street Mall. If you’ve been following this story, you know that Stewart’s is allowed to operate with 48 seats per their mercantile license, issued on May 8, but the business has spent the summer operating with a heck of a lot more than that… 113 seats, to be exact. This is the number that Code Enforcement Officer John Queenan counted during an inspection on June 18, and again on July 13. During another visit in August — despite two notices of violation being handed out and two summonses issued — Queenan found the seat number, 90, was still too high.
According to Section 525-49E of the City Code Book, if a restaurant wants to increase its seating, it must pay into something called the Parking Account Trust Fund at a rate of $5,000 for every four additional seats. It’s something other business owners on the mall have done — or opted not to do because it would be cost prohibitive. And these business owners are understandably peeved. Why shouldn’t everyone, they’ve said, be made to follow the same rules?
We’ve heard it suggested that Stewart’s owner Patrick Rosenello, president of the North Wildwood Council, has enough political weight to explain what some call a delay in enforcement. And we’ve also heard from Cape May’s City Manager Bruce MacLeod that the city has, in fact, followed the correct procedure: a court date was set for August 28, he told us. But at that hearing, Stewart’s was fined only $600 for violating the mercantile license regulations — a punishment, some said, that didn’t fit the crime.
But then, a day later, an administrative hearing was held, during which City Clerk Louise Cummiskey decided to revoke Stewart’s mercantile license. The charges? “Fraud or misrepresentation in any application and operation of the licensed premises in violation of state or city land use provisions.”
Which brings us to Monday’s hearing: the appeal of Stewart’s in front of council, who ultimately decided to uphold Cummiskey’s decision (eliciting cheers from the crowd).
Representing the city was Marian Ragusa, a Middle Township prosecutor sitting in for City Solicitor Tony Monzo, because of a conflict of interest. Representing Stewart’s — and joined by Rosenello’s partner, Sean Dougherty — was William Kaufman. In the audience were 18 attendees, most of them local business owners, who cheered when the final decision came through.
We wondered what leg the defense even had to stand on. After all, Dougherty himself testified that Stewart’s had been operating with 92 seats during the first administrative hearing, according to Cummiskey’s report. And at this appeal hearing, we listened to the city’s witness, John Queenan, relay each count he’d conducted. So… what’s to debate? Stewart’s has, by their own admission, been operating outside of the law.
“You can only commit fraud in an application at the time you submit it to the city clerk,” Kaufman said. “May 8 is the only date that is important.” Whether or not Queenan found there to be too many seats on a subsequent day, he explained is irrelevant; it doesn’t prove that Stewart’s committed fraud. “Did they have more seats after May 8?” Kaufmas asked council, “I don’t know. Maybe. But if that’s the issue, they should have been charged with something else… not fraud on the application… they’ve tried to be a good neighbor.”
It’s a pretty shaky argument, we think. If the regulations set forth in a licensing application only apply for one day… what’s the point of them? “What’s being suggested is an absurd reading,” Ragusa responded, and council agreed. At one point, Deputy Mayor Jack Wichterman, took a jab at Kaufman. “This is the good neighbor?” he asked.
We don’t think Stewart’s has been the most neighborly either, but it looks like they might get a second chance. We called Cummiskey, who told us that Stewart’s will be able to reapply for a mercantile license, and that it is possible they could receive it.
It Takes A Village
With Halloween just over a month away, people are beginning to think about who they’d like to be this year, on the one night when it’s acceptable for most adults to dress as princesses and pirates. But for the staff at Historic Cold Spring Village on Route 9, being in costume — and in character — is a part of daily life… daily life as it was between 1789 and 1840. We stopped by this past weekend — Civil War Weekend — for a look into the village, its 26 restored historic buildings, and the interpreters who bring it to life.
We spent 15 minutes strolling through the 30 shaded acres, just enjoying the secluded beauty of the place (and the smell of pumpkin cheesecake wafting from the bakery), before popping in to see the basket maker, a woman by the name of Gail Donaghy. She was busy weaving flat reeds with willow to make a basket, otherwise known as a 19th century purse. It was a beautiful purple color, Gail told us, because she’d soaked the materials first in blueberry juice, just as they would have done during the age of homespun. “I applied for a job collecting tickets,” Gail told us. “But they had an opening for a basket maker and, turns out, most people who work here start out making baskets.” And turns out, it’s a rewarding job, with lots of opportunity for meeting fascinating passersby. “This weekend,” Gail told us, “I met a couple from Lithuania. Her family were basket makers there before mechanization put them out of business.”
From here, we made our way past the three kids with their heads in the Guillotine, through the Country Store where worker Wendy Taylor showed us a 19th century checker board complete with corn husk checkers, and toward the minstrel band, the Camptown Shakers, breaking it down Civil War style. Percussionist King Bennet showed us his donkey jawbone instrument (rubbing the teeth of a donkey’s mouth with wood makes a pleasing sound… who knew?) “It’s about $80,” King said.
From there, it was on to the tent of Mike Kochan who, dressed as a Confederate Army engineer, gave us a rundown on some of the “improvised explosives used in the war between the states.” Think bombs disguised as pieces of coal or concealed in boxes marked “candles.” Our favorite part was the “19th centry texting” – AKA sending of telegraphs — that Mike let us try. “They hired teenagers to do it during the war,” he said, “because they were better at it then, just like they are today.”
In the home of the yarn spinner, we met local ninth-grader Matt MacFeat, who was busy getting a lesson on the spinning wheel. “This is pretty cool,” he said. And then he gave us this tidbit: “Today is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam.” (This is why you should bring a ninth-grader with you everywhere you go). He also told us that the Union had gotten its “butt kicked” in a battle reenactment earlier this day, so we figured we’d go straight to the source: the Confederate butt-kickers.
On our way out of the Village, we ran into a sexy real-life couple — Grace Wright and Jon-Mark Grussenmeyer — who told us they met at a “Civil War ball.” Now, they play a Confederate couple at various reenactments — he with a musket in tow and she with her corset tied so that it doesn’t cut off her oxygen and, ultimately, her ability to support her soldier during battle. “We’ve performed a lot of places,” Jon-Mark said, “but there’s something particularly special about doing it in an actual 19th century village. Earlier, we did a skit where we stole a loaf of bread from the bakery. People asked if it was ‘real’ bread we were eating, as opposed to, I don’t know, plastic bread? They want to know if this fire or that baby are real, too. Of course they are. They’re pleasantly surprised by how real it all is.”
Real indeed. We were among the “pleasantly surprised,” and we’re willing to bet you will be, too.
It Was Raining Men
Who says there aren’t enough decent bachelors in Cape May? Okay, a lot of people, your reporter — sadly — among them. But the Fourth Annual King Neptune Bachelor Auction, sponsored by the Mermaid Guild and held at the (packed) Rusty Nail on Sunday, proves us wrong. Well, sort of… many of the 15 men for sale this night were bachelor impostors — attached guys who are more into helping a great cause (proceeds from this event benefit the Community FoodBank of New Jersey) than looking for ladies. But they were there nonetheless, many of them shirtless, one of them more oiled than a Baywatch lifeguard, and all of them eliciting hoots and take-it-off hollers from an eager crowd of extremely pleased women, your reporter not-so-sadly among them.
We got to speak with a couple of the handsome guys to find out how they were feeling before the show began. “What’s to worry about?” said Michael Kline of the Exit 0 International Jazz Festival. “I’m cheap and easy.” The lucky lady to take him home, we learned, would walk away with Friday night Producers Passes to the jazz festival, with backstage access.
But not all the men were as nonchalant as Michael about their quickly approaching time on stage. RJ Peck — Bachelor Number 10 whose hunky promo photo had created quite the stir online, prompting one Facebook friend to write, “I’m clearing out my Swiss accounts!” — was drinking a Red Bull and vodka when we saw him… and he gave up drinking last year. “I’ve got to take the edge off,” he told us. “My mom signed me up for this!” (Sure, sure, RJ. We checked with your mom, the lovely Christine Peck, and she told us that all she did was “suggest” it to you. Nice try.)
And Christine wasn’t the only proud mamma there. A bow-tied barista/Cabanas server by the name of Matt Reeves told us his mother was prepared to kick off his own bidding, “in case things go poorly.”
About this time, the night’s MCs — Teresa Henry and Yogi Kurtz — took their place on stage to announce Bachelor Number One, Doug Ortlip of Tiny Cruise Line. His date? A boat trip for eight “adventurous” women to include a Champagne toast. “It’s not about the size of your ship,” we read from Doug’s T-shirt as he presented each of his bidders with a flower lay. Going once, going twice, and sold for $500!
Exit Zero photographer Aleksey Moryakov was also a highlight. His date — a beach portrait for three OR a racy boudoir photo session — went to the beautiful Betty Moffatt. Which will she choose? Aleksey seems to think it will be the boudoir session, which Betty will likely kill us for putting in print. “I didn’t think anyone would want me,” Aleks told us. “I’m a married guy with a baby! But I was happy that quite a few women bid on me.” And they bid on him, we’d like to note, despite his having danced for them on stage. (Sorry, Aleks.)
Other highlights? Robert Young, offering a five-course wine pairing dinner at Beach Creek Grill, turned up in some very dapper attire. “He owns a suit,” said the woman in front of us, “and that counts for something.” But it didn’t take Robert long to start discarding pieces of this outfit, prompting another spectator to say, “He’s making me blush!” Your MCs warned that Rob would not undo so much as one more button, until someone bid $650, and that’s exactly what happened.
Then there was Nikos Goutzouris, Manager and Director of Operations at George’s Place, who reached his hands down his pants to pull out a bottle of oil on stage, which he promptly used to lather himself, with a little help from an eager audience participant. We asked successful bidder Joni Remmel which of Nikos’ dates she’d be choosing — the skydiving option or the the let-Nikos-clean-your-house-in-his-underwear-option — and she said neither. “We’ll do something not related,” she told us. Oh, reeeally? (Nothing dirty, folks, just a good, old-fashioned night on the town!)
We’d be remiss if we didn’t send our congratulations to RJ (remember our sexy, Red Bull-drinking bachelor who was so nervous?). Two women bid on him at the same time, bringing in a whopping $1,300 for the FoodBank. (The MCs only spotted the one high bid, RJ says, so he offered his six-hours-worth-of-landscaping date to each hopeful contestant.) “I’m so proud that so many people came out to support such a good cause,” RJ told us.
Our thoughts, exactly.
Thanks to all the generous men who made such a special night for so many Cape May women, and thanks also to the Mermaid Guid of Cape May for putting on yet another successful event. (The Mermaids were still calculating final numbers when we checked, but in year’s past, the auction has raised over $20,000. Let’s just say it will be another hefty contribution to the FoodBank.) Until next time, happy dating, Cape May!