The Pharmacist

As far as art is concerned, many would agree there is nothing more American than a Norman Rockwell painting. Sanjay Shah, or ‘Jay’ as he is more commonly known, thinks so. According to the municipality’s initial Work Stop Order and subsequent Notice of Denial, the Borough of Roselle Park seems to disagree.

Jay is the owner of the Roselle Park Rita Pharmacy on the corner of  Warren Avenue and Chestnut Street. Earlier this year, Jay wanted to improve the facade of his business and – at the same time – do what he could to help enhance downtown which has seen its share of  ‘For Rent’ signs decorating windows. After giving some thought, Jay contacted artist Melinda Saminski and commissioned an interpretation of Norman Rockwell’s painting “The Apothecary” also known as “The Pharmacist” along with other displays to bring attention to the town’s only pharmacy. Melinda, being in business for 25 years doing fine painting and murals, went to work. She had completed the first stage of work on the mural and was going to return to finish it the next day.

That’s when Jay got the bad news in the form of a Work Stop Order from the Borough. So the unfinished mural, for the time being, adorns one of Rita Pharmacy’s windows. Still, with only half of the painting completed, customers have complimented Jay on bringing an old-time feel to Roselle Park. He stated that the reason for the mural was two-fold, “Look at what I have to compete with. Just on the other side of the train tracks are two chain-store pharmacies which have their windows filled with signs and ads. I wanted to do something to spruce up the downtown and to have people realize they have their very own hometown pharmacy.”

Jay had the very same proposed mural in his pharmacy in Iselin (pictured right) and there he did not even need a permit for it. But in Roselle Park, things are apparently different. Even Melinda Saminski was confused by the Borough’s original Work Stop Order. When asked if she ever had any issues with other murals she has done in other towns she responded, “Oh no, not for window paintings. If it was like a building or a sign, side of a building, you would probably need a permit but never for a window mural.”

“I’ve done probably five or six of these so far through the last 10 years, “Ms. Saminski continued, “They’re all still up and we’ve never had a problem with them and they’re really an enhancement for the town.”

Jay contacted the Borough’s Construction Office on a regular basis asking if there was anything he could do to help. He was first told he would need to submit an application for the mural and proposed windows signs. He was then asked by Code Enforcement Officer Carl Pluchino to supply measurements for all the signs that Jay had proposed to put up. He was going to submit the dimensions to the Construction Department but wanted to show them to Mr. Pluchino to see if everything was in order. Jay stated, “Before I submitted it to the borough, I wanted Carl to look at it.”

Then on Monday, September 26th, Jay was notified by Sandy Capaldo from the Construction Office that they would be sending him a letter denying his application and that the mural would have to be removed. If he wanted to, he could submit a zoning application but that the painting would have to come down because some of the proposed signs looked liked graffiti signs. Although the mural was not specifically mentioned, it would still have to be taken down. Photographs of the pharmacy’s previous layout and its proposed signage are available for comparison below:

Jay commented on this news by stating, “I would be willing to take a few signs out and I can have a second plan presented to the Borough if they want as long as they do not have me take the mural out.”

The only option left to Jay was to pay a zoning application fee, pay for an attorney who is familiar with Roselle Park’s zoning laws, pay to have the mural removed, and pay again to have it re-done if Jay is successful with the zoning application; a mural he has already paid over $1,000 to cover up an ice machine which is what could be seen through the window previously. The process to go before the Municipal Land Use Board (MLUB), which now handles both zoning and planning issues, would cost – at the minimum – a couple hundred dollars and could last up to three (3) months. So Roselle Park Rita Pharmacy could be without a mural until 2012. During that time, customers and passersby would be able to see the side of an ice machine instead of a Norman Rockwell-like painting and Jay would be unable to invest in his business which would help him compete with corporate pharmacies just across the tracks.

“I’m just trying to do something good and I’m spending money to help spruce up the town,” Jay stated when he found out about the impending notice, “If it’s a permit issue, I’ll pay whatever it is but to take it down and go for a zoning application hearing would be too much money at this point.”

When the Notice of Denial arrived at Rita Pharmacy, no specific mention was made of ‘graffiti-style’ signs. The application was denied based on violation of the B-2 Central Business District regulation and ordinance 40-3002.

The B-2 Central Business District regulation, which is actually Borough Ordinance Code 40-2302 Section B, states that a retail store or establishment with street exposure shall be of a character consonant with and appropriate to a distinctive, high quality refined office, hotel and business district. “The Apothecary” by Norman Rockwell was a cover for the Saturday Evening Post and has been displayed in the Norman Rockwell Museum. Such a painting, by many, would be considered to be of a character appropriate to a high quality business district, but apparently not according to Roselle Park’s Construction Office.

The other ordinance referred to, 40-3002, deals with temporary window signs but cites only ‘interior window signs’ when the mural at Rita Pharmacy is on the outside of the window and will be permanent. An interior window sign would be a poster or similar display that hangs from the inside announcing a sale or a product. Additionally, the ordinance states that such a temporary window sign should not cover more than 10% of any single window and the sign not be permanently affixed. There have been and continue to be other businesses in town which have exceeded the 10% limit and have done so for years. But Jay does not want to get involved in any of that, “This isn’t about pointing fingers or hurting other businesses. I’m not going to do that. We’re all here to make a living and we’re all part of the town.”

“That’s ridiculous. It makes no sense. In this economy, the town should do what it can to help businesses, not hurt them, ” a resident and customer of Rita Pharmacy who wished not to be named stated when they found out about the obstacles Jay has encountered, “He’s doing something to help his business and make Roselle Park pretty. He should be given an award for that painting, not be told to take it down.”

There is word of a petition that has been started to have customers, residents, and fellow businesses sign in order to show their support of the mural and to ask the Borough to reconsider its position on the matter. A message left on Code Enforcement Officer Carl Pluchino’s office phone a week ago to discuss the Borough’s stance was never returned. Sandy Capaldo from the Construction Office, when asked if the Construction Code Office determined that some of Roselle Park Rita Pharmacy’s proposed displays resembled ‘graffiti signs’, she responded by stating, “We have no comment on the matter.”