Ventnor Coffee was packed to capacity Sunday for its first-ever music showdown, a free event that brought together seven local bands for 10 consecutive hours of live music.
"The energy was unreal," said Mike Einwechter, owner of the Ventnor Heights coffee shop, which opened in August. "Everyone was having a good time, there were people dancing in the corner. I told our winter employees who recently started working for us, 'This is what it's like all the time in the summer.'"
Despite its success, Sunday's event may have been the last live music performance under the coffee shop's roof. The city Zoning Board is citing Ventnor Coffee for hosting live performances in a commercially zoned area of the city, which the board says is prohibited, and is requiring the coffee shop apply for a variance and make necessary upgrades to continue as it is.
Einwechter and his wife, Christine Pagano, are set to go before the Zoning Board on Wednesday to present their case, which is that music is an accessory to their business. The Zoning Board will then make a decision.
"We're just trying to do something good in the town where we grew up, and it seems like the city doesn't want to see it happen," Einwechter said.
Ventnor Coffee isn't the only Ventnor business that feels the city administration is working against it.
Agnes Debicz and John Battista, co-owners of the Carisbrooke Inn and Carisbrooke Ice in the city's North Beach section, said the city administration has enforced rules on them that have negatively affected their businesses.
For example, last summer the city changed the parking meter time restrictions in the spaces in front of their ice cream shop from 15 minutes, as it was for more than 30 years, to 30 minutes with free parking after 5 p.m without consulting with or notifying the businesses first.
The 15 minute parking restriction had allowed customers to come and go frequently, Debicz said, whereas the new parking allows people to park and stay in the space for hours at a time.
Another issue, Debicz said, is that the city requires the bed and breakfast to have 13 water meters for its two buildings of 16 units. Each meter costs a flat fee of about $300 a year, plus the costs of water usage.
"The simple fact is we are paying three to four times more per gallon used than other businesses, and the reason for this is how they classify our two buildings. It has no basis on the actual water we use," she said "We're trying to market the city and we bring in outsiders, but we're being punished for owning a business."
Mayor Mike Bagnell said he's been made aware of all of the concerns and he sympathizes with these business owners, but he said they are the rules. He also said Ventnor Coffee's owners were told not to host any live performances until at least the Zoning Board meeting, but the owners blatantly disregarded the orders Sunday.
"All codes have to be enforced fairly, equally and strictly," Bagnell said. "Believe me, I want businesses to survive and thrive, but you just can't have music in a commercial zone. The building isn't equipped for the amount of people or the parking that those shows bring in, and God forbid there's a fire with all those people in there. If they continue to violate the rule then appropriate legal action will be taken."
Debicz will attend Wednesday's Zoning Board meeting to support Ventnor Coffee and to voice her own issues with the city. Einwechter said the coffee shop is expecting a lot of community support at the meeting and has created a Facebook page to encourage people to go.
"These may seem like small issues to the city, but to small businesses like ours they can be significant," Debicz said. "They either reduce revenue or reduce profit, and in either case it makes it less attractive to own a business here and takes money that might otherwise be used to make capital improvements or to help advertise the businesses."
Bagnell said he proposed initiating a merchants association to help prevent these sort of issues in the past, but no one had volunteered.
"If we had a merchants association I could address issues with them and they could address issues with me, and we wouldn't be here," he said. "It's a two-way street."
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If you go
What: Ventnor Zoning Board meeting
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 19
Where: Ventnor City Hall, 6201 Atlantic Ave., Ventnor.