On July 1, a set of sweeping restrictive guidelines set forth by the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control went into effect for every brewery in the state. These 18 special conditions, now included on brewery licenses, target everything from barring food service and food truck operations to requiring locations to give walking or virtual tours of the facilities before customers consume alcohol. The most damaging rule, however, is one that says craft breweries can only hold 25 “special events,” such as live music, trivia contests, community fundraisers, and 52 private parties a year.
As we’ve seen this industry explode over the last 10 years, rebuilding and redefining our main streets with vibrant economic development, we know that special events and private parties are the lifeblood that keeps the industry going. By placing such a low threshold onto these small businesses will do nothing but destroy their ability to grow and flourish. These shortsighted obstacles and hurdles being mandated on one of the fastest growing small business sectors in the state will be unbelievably damaging to this industry.
Since Congressman Donald Norcross (D, 1st district) sponsored legislation in 2012 to cut the red tape and modernize craft brewing in New Jersey, small business owners have opened in almost every town in the county. Many have had tremendous impacts on their neighborhoods and have become a catalyst for economic growth in several municipalities. They have become the epitome of community spaces, created destination locations for new visitors to the county and have employed many of our residents. In fact, many of these facilities have expanded from their original operations further investing their assets here in Camden County, such as Tonewood and Kings Road Brewing.
The timing for these restrictions could not be worse. For more than two years, small businesses across this country have been decimated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We all remember the early days of this pandemic where our society shut down basically overnight. The neighborhood establishments that we came to know, and love were forced to close their doors and many, never reopened. Too many small business owners were faced with the painful reality that to keep their heads above water, they had to let go of the businesses they built from the ground up, this includes many breweries. I’m afraid that history will repeat itself as these restrictions do nothing but hinder small breweries from thriving. We need to be doing everything in our power to keep small businesses open right now and these rules are sending us in the complete opposite direction.
New Jersey breweries have contributed greatly to this state’s overall economic well-being. This is not how we should repay them. This kind of business climate will only hurt the small business sector in this state. I’m hoping that the officials from the ABC will soon see the errors of their ways and implement guidelines that will help, not hinder, New Jersey and Camden County breweries.
Camden County Commissioner Jonathan Young sits on the board of the directors for the New Jersey Association of Counties and is a member of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters.