By Michael Hill
When Hurricane Sandy devastated Tuckerton – including Panini Bay perched in a cove – it left business owners like Ivar Johnson with some tough choices– move on or move up.
“It’s been stressful, crazy but we are happy with the way restaurant turned out,” said Ivar Johnson.
The decision to stay meant Johnson had to raise Panini Bay from seven to 14 feet. Under federal law, the rebuilding of this restaurant and all business making major changes, must comply with the American with Disabilities Act.
So, to re-open last November, Johnson had to widen the stairs to five feet and add hand rails, widen doorways to three feet and expand the restrooms so a wheelchair can turn 360 degrees.
This replaces Panini Bay’s ramp and may be the biggest adjustment. This enclosed lift from the ground floor to the entrance of the restaurant cost Ivar about $35,000– not as convenient but about half of the price of an elevator.
“A little tricky with the buttons and the door self locks. But, once figure it out, happy it’s there,” said Johnson
“I try to talk and explain to businesses that more people can come the better the business will be,” said Mary Ciccone of Disability Right of New Jersey.
Ciccone is the managing attorney for the federally funded Disability Rights of New Jersey. She says it’s about universal design – making a business accessible to all with or without disabilities. She says no business is “grandfathered” in or exempt from the ADA. Ciccone says even businesses that pre-date the 1990 law must make “readily achievable” modifications.
“That means small modifications, basically if they have one step they can put in a ramp, it doesn’t cost that much,” said Ciccone.
Businesses with annual revenues of a million dollars or less or 30 or fewer full-time workers can get a maximum $5,000 tax credit per year to cover half the cost of making their place accessible. And all business can get a max $15,000-dollar yearly deduction to make accessibility improvements.
Barbara Wood has COPD and uses a scooter to get around – but not to get in to this pizza parlor in Trenton
Wood has to knock on the window to get service and wait outside for her order because the restaurant has no access ramp:
“I think that’s very wrong especially since we’re patrons like any body else,” said Wood.
Complaints against businesses that do not comply with the ADA could end up with the Justice Department for Mediation or they could end up in federal court and once they get to federal court a lot of times businesses will lose.
“Overtime, eventually, I think it will pay off,” said Johnson.
Back in Tuckerton, Ivar says law or no law, making his restaurant accessible to all is just good business.