Ocean County Small Business Owner Offers Insight to House Committee
Today, Congressman Andy Kim (NJ-03) invited Kristofor Sabey, a small business owner from Seaside Heights, to provide testimony as part of the House Committee on Small Business' National Small Business Week hearing. Mr. Sabey's testimony can be found below:
My name is Kristofor Sabey, and I am the owner of Surf Liquors & Market in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. The story of a small business owner usually includes a winding path of self-discovery, and mine is no different. In 2006 I graduated from Johnson & Wales University with a Bachelor of Science in Business Management, with a concentration in Operations Management. Straight out of college, I began a successful career as a Project Manager with Meridian Consulting Group, working on bonded construction sites. I spent much of this time traveling for my job, including almost two years in New Orleans rebuilding schools following the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. After four years of working away from home, I realized that I wanted to create a life working for myself that allowed me to spend more time with family. I moved back to my hometown of Toms River, New Jersey to pursue this new dream.
In 2010 I married my now wife, Patty, who has four generations of small business in her blood. Her family founded & still owns Lucky Leos Arcade on the Seaside Heights Boardwalk, an iconic landmark at the Jersey Shore. She had her own business as well; Patty opened Lucky Lady, a successful clothing boutique on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, in 2005 when she was just a junior in college at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She graduated in 2006 with a BFA in Fabric Styling and an associate degree in Fashion Merchandising.
Patty and I purchased Surf Liquors & Market in 2011. It’s a business that was established in 1982, and is a mainstay on “the island” for wine, beer and liquor, as well as snacks and other needs for the weekender at the Shore. We became a young couple with two seasonal businesses and a growing family: our son, Kurt, was born later that year.
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit and we were devastated. Waves crashed through Patty’s boutique on the boardwalk, and the liquor store was destroyed as well. We felt every sort of emotion; thankful that our family was safe, heartbroken that our hard work was washed away with the storm, and terrified about what our future held. But small business owners are nothing if not determined, and we knew we would come back from this.
I’m thankful for the grants that kept our head above water in the wake of Sandy. I received an NJEDA loan that was a true lifesaver. It allowed me to rebuild, and even though we are nowhere near hitting the numbers we were making prior to the storm, I am confident that with the right support from our government our small businesses will thrive again.
Surf Liquors & Market remains in its original location, although Seaside Heights has not yet bounced back. Uncertain of the future of the boardwalk, Patty chose to close Lucky Lady and instead focused her efforts on a new business, while also growing our family with the addition of daughter Penelope. We opened House of Lucky in 2014 in Lavallette, New Jersey, just down the road. It has become one of the go-to lifestyle boutiques in the area, and has inspired us to open a second shop, Salt House, opening this summer right next door.
We love being small business owners, and can’t imagine any other life for us. It has brought our family so much joy. Our children both have dreams of business in their future, too; Kurt (7) wants to run the family arcade, and Penny (4) wants to be a “donut maker” when they grow up. I would love nothing more than to see them follow in our footsteps, but can’t help but worry about the future of small business in America.
The State of Small Business
The particular struggle of seasonal small businesses is a unique one; of course there are the usual suspects: minimum wage, funding… the list goes on. A seasonal business also sees the effects of environmental factors and a young workforce.
The minimum wage has been on our mind the most recently with the passage of NJ A15 (18R), which will raise New Jersey’s minimum wage to $15 per hour over the next few years. We’ve always paid our employees over the minimum wage, as we feel that good support is one of our most important assets. It is hard to find, however; in our seasonal towns, the pool (of mainly high school or college students) demand more and more, while wanting to work minimal hours. We can’t raise product costs to combat the rise in wages, as we then could not compete with bigger stores, which is hard enough today when those other businesses do not play by the same rules (paying workers under the table, illegal moving of inventory between stores, etc). On top of this, liquor licenses are being devalued with the ideas of R1 & R2 bills in New Jersey, which could someday allow other types of businesses to sell alcohol - not to mention Amazon’s acquirement of a liquor license. The uncertainty is stressful on a small business, and does not seem to be going away any time soon.
While regulations are necessary and well-meaning, they have made it increasingly difficult to own and operate a liquor store. It often feels as though the ABC in New Jersey is working against me, rather than with me. Local rules and ordinances that are intended to be positive have resulted in the shuttering of other businesses, and towns like mine rely on the success of others to bring patrons to town.
Of course, Hurricane Sandy has also played a huge role in the direction of our businesses, but it goes beyond rebuilding the shops. Infrastructure became a problem in the years after the storm, and repairs continue today. Route 35, a major roadway on which House of Lucky sits, was under construction for years, impeding customer parking and dissuading day trippers from visiting because it became too much of a hassle. The beach replenishment along the coast, which of course is necessary, has affected tourism in ways previously unseen. On top of this, insurance rates for our properties have spiked. Our hope is that our government can work together to improve our environment so that future generations can enjoy the beauty of the Jersey Shore before it is washed away.
Our local community has been the biggest asset in keeping small business alive at the Jersey Shore. While we have struggled with all of main points I’ve discussed above, we have seen enormous growth in the local small business community. I’m inspired by how we have banded together to produce events, better our towns, and encourage one another in a multitude of ways.
Owning a small business can often feel like you are a small voice in a crowded field. I hope you can stand with me and my fellow small business owners, seasonal and otherwise, and remember us when you are making the laws that will ultimately not only affect our lives but also the communities that we serve & support.
Thank you so much for listening to my story.