DOILIES. Crumpets. Painted ladies. These are the images people conjure up when they think of a B&B-heavy Victorian town. But we’re not all staid, 1800s charm… one need only stumble into a Terrible Tuesday at the Ugly Mug for proof of that. We’re a town that knows how to have a good, adrenaline-filled time. Think of all Cape Island offers in the way of heart-racing adventure — ocean kayaking, surfing, even jet boating (coming this summer, thanks to East Coast Parasail). And we’re also only 86 miles from the New Jersey Motorsports Park, or NJMP. It’s a 500-acre facility in Millville that’s already been discovered — and lauded — by some locals, so we figured we’d get the skinny on what makes this place worth checking out, whether you’re already a skilled driver… or the kind that needs two spots to park one car at Washington Commons. (We’ve seen you.)
We called NJMP’s Manager of Communications, Chris Banker, who explained that the park is not NASCAR-affiliated. “Those tracks are mostly oval, whereas these are road courses,” he said. Meaning? Driving on the park’s world-class Thunderbolt course, you’ll cope with 14 turns; on the world-class Lightning course, 10. This is where the ARCA (Automobile Racing Club of America), AMA (American Motorcyclist Association), and AHRMA (American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association) hold professional races, and also where amateur drivers, who belong to various racing clubs, get their throttle on. “I can’t put into words the experience, the thrill, of driving here,” Chris said.
Somebody who knows exactly what Chris is referring to? Rick White, a Washington Street resident whose day job is investment banking and financial advising. “When you’re on the course,” Rick told us, “there’s absolutely nothing else you can think about. There’s no did-I-pay-pay-my-taxes, or am-I-done-that-boardroom-presentation. You need to be totally concentrated. You’re running at the edge of your control.”
Rick has put over 700 hours on the track in the last 10 years (“It’s addictive,” he told us), meaning he’s worked his way through various levels, starting with the beginner and novice tiers. At these stages, a driver is required to have an instructor in the car at all times. Now, Rick, who participates in amateur races from April through October, is an instructor himself.
So why would a person want to take a lesson or two? For car lovers, there is the obvious appeal of being in a hub for some of the world’s most beautifully engineered vehicles. (Rick, a member of the Porsche Club of America, drives a 997-GT3.) But then there’s the more unlikely incentive… According to Rick’s partner, Victoria Clayton, some sign up in order to feel more safe. “Everyday people go to these driving schools to better their performance on the everyday road,” she told us. “They improve their reflexes, so they can react better on the Atlantic City Expressway, for example.”
Right… but on the everyday road, people (hopefully) aren’t traveling at 150 miles per hour, so isn’t the danger factor high, we wanted to know?
“I feel safer driving on this course than I do on the Schuylkill Expressway,” Rick said. And you should, too, we learned, because these cars are built to protect the people inside. “We use a five-point harness, helmets, a neck brace, and a specialized suspension system,” Rick explained.
And if none of that grabs you? “A lot of times, younger women ask me about it,” Rick says. “They have a hard time finding guys. My suggestion is to buy a midengine car like a Cayman S, join the Porsche Club of America, and come out to an event.”
For more information, check out njmp.com, or give Rick a call at 609-892-4387.
The Root Beer Saga
THE Stewart’s Root Beer saga has finally come to a resolution. But before we get into that… here’s a refresher on what’s gone down so far…
Stewart’s Root Beer opened last May, in the site of the former Atlantic Books on the Washington Street Mall. According to the establishment’s mercantile license, issued on May 8, the restaurant is permitted 48 seats. It operated all of last summer with about double that. The city issued two formal warnings, but the warnings went unheeded. So, on June 18 and July 13, Code Enforcement Officer John Queenan conducted inspections in which 113 seats were counted. Two formal summonses were issued, but during another visit in August, Queenan found the seat number, 90, was still too high.
Some fellow business owners on the mall were understandably peeved, and all because of something called the Parking Trust Account, established 20 years ago in Section 525-49E of the city code book. Theoretically, the more seats you have in your restaurant, the more people you’ll be bringing into town, and the more parking congestion this creates. To offset the problem, this fund was established. If a restaurant wants to increase its number of seats, it must pay into the trust at a rate of $5,000 for every four additional seats. Some restaurants, like Jackson Mountain, forked over a lot of money when they wanted to renovate. Others found the rule too costly. So, why, people wanted to know, would Stewart’s not be subject to the same regulations?
Some, including two former Cape May mayors we interviewed, thought that Stewart’s should be shut down by the city. Others thought that the political connections of one Stewart’s partner, North Wildwood Council President Patrick Rosenello, were leading to a delay in enforcement.
Eventually, in court on August 28, Stewart’s was fined $600. A day later, at an administrative hearing, City Clerk Louise Cummiskey revoked Stewart’s mercantile license. The charges? “Fraud or misrepresentation in any application.”
Stewart’s appealed the decision in front of council, and that body ultimately decided to uphold Cummiskey’s decision, eliciting cheers from the crowd.
But Stewart’s kept their doors open. What’s more, they filed a lawsuit against the city. For an article published on October 9, we called then councilmember, now Deputy Mayor, Bill Murray. “They’re seeking an order directing the clerk to immediately issue a mercantile license. They have to show immediate and irreparable harm,” he explained.
Flash forward to the March 12 meeting of the Planning Board. On the agenda was a discussion over Stewart’s request to increase their allowed seating from 48 to 92 — legally. We were feeling a little confused. After all, how does a business apply to change its mercantile license when it no longer has one? We emailed Louise Cummiskey, who told us this: “Stewart’s obtained a Mercantile License for the current year on February 20, 2013. As to the ‘equitable relief,’ the action is still pending.”
But, at least, the seating issue is not still pending.
The Stewart’s partners — represented by William Kauffman — agreed to pay the $55,000 they owe into the parking trust, to verify their solid waste and recycling systems will be adequate for increased traffic, and to get approval from the water and sewer department.
Several business owners on the mall — including Susan Tischler of Just For Laughs and Kaleidescope, Paul Bogle of The Original Fudge Kitchen, and Peter Karapanagiotis of Pano — spoke in favor of Stewart’s being granted this variance. “We see so many restaurants come and go, and the consistency is basically ridiculous,” Karapanagiotis said. “To see someone come in, sign a lease, and plan to be there for a long time, and do good things in the town… [George Karapanagiotis] and I are behind that 100%.”
Deidre Hineline of the Pilot House was the only business owner to express concern that Stewart’s would be granted this variance. “Even though they were given several citations last year, they continued to run the entire season with illegal seats and didn’t pay any attention to the citations or warnings by the city,” she said, “so I’d like to know, if this variance is granted, who’s going to monitor this?” When we caught up with the Pilot House manager Ed Nielsen later, he told us they did, in fact, believe “justice has been served.” Pam Smarro of Madame’s Port said the same. “As long as they pay for their seats, I think it’s great,” she said.
We think so, too. And, as long as everyone plays by the rules, it should continue to stay that way.
For The Birds
BIRDING may not be associated with the under-18 set in the same way that video games and skateboards are, but the hobby is continuing to garner attention from a younger crowd. “You see a great deal of young interns who come here to monitor shore birds,” said Debra Crossley, a self-described “backyard birder.” Enter the Cape May’s Young Birders Club, meeting for the first time on April 2 at 4pm. We called Debra, whose spearheading the effort, and she explained that Cape Island is the ideal place for such a group.
To begin with, this IS the capital of the birding universe. “Cape May is the perfect location for everything that’s migrating north and south,” Debra said. “It’s never boring.” But it’s also home to a talented pool of local birders — like Louise Zemaitis, Mark Garland, and Debra’s husband Richard Crossley, author of the Crossley ID Guide series — who will lead the monthly sessions. “This is a group of well-rounded naturalists with insight not just about birds, but butterflies and other wildlife,” Debra said.
And the kids who come out don’t need merely to be interested in birds, either. Young photographers, environmentalists, and artists might find their niche with this club. “We encourage kids to bring their cameras and sketch books,” Debra said. And a rainy day might just appeal to the more crafty child; indoor activities could include such projects as bird feeder making.
“Study after study has shown that kids who go out into the natural world are healthier and happier,” Debra said. “That’s the goal. It’s about enjoying the outdoors, which is such a difficult thing these days with so much time spent on computers.” But even more than that, it’s about cultivating the next generation of conservationists. “These are the wardens of the future,” Debra said.
Meetings of the Young Birders, which are free, begin at the Cape May Point State Park Office. Ten to 18 is the target age group. For more information, call Debra at 609-846-3807.