Jersey Living

Newark’s Jubilation Choir Celebrates 20 Years of Grammy-Worthy Gospel


The 75-member Jubilation Choir includes members from as far away as Virginia. They’ve sung alongside the likes of Dionne Warwick and Ray Charles. Courtesy of Kasi McKoy



There’s a reason Newark’s Grammy-winning Jubilation Choir has sung alongside heavy hitters including Dionne Warwick, Queen Latifah and the late Ray Charles. Those who buy a ticket to the gospel group’s 20th anniversary show June 22 at NJPAC won’t leave wondering what that reason might be, says the Rev. Dr. Stefanie Minatee, Jubilation’s founder and artistic director.

The Rev. Dr. Stefanie Minatee founded the choir in 1999. Courtesy of Kasi McKoy

“When you see Jubilation, you see the sincerity on people’s faces, and you hear the soul in their voices,” says Minatee, a Newark native who lives in Union. “Even if it’s a secular song they’re singing, you’re going to hear that they actually feel the message of the music.” 

Jubilation’s reputation as New Jersey’s most decorated community choir dates to 1999, when Minatee, known to all as Rev. Stef, auditioned more than 300 singers from the tristate area for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at NJPAC. She selected 120 from that group, including Queen Latifah’s mother, Rita Owens. The group went on to sing that year with Shirley Caesar, another gospel giant. In 2002, Jubilation was tapped as the choir on Ray Charles Celebrates: A Gospel Christmas Album. In 2010, the choir earned a Grammy with Latifah and other artists for a track on the compilation album Oh Happy Day. In between, there were gigs with the likes of Isaac Hayes and tours to places like Japan. This year, Jubilation joined Warwick for a pair of songs on an as-yet-unnamed forthcoming album by the 78-year-old Orange native.

Despite the lofty credentials, the now 75-member choir, with members from as far away as Virginia, has stayed humble, says Minatee. At the anniversary show, they will offer a tribute to Owens, who died in 2018, and present a scholarship to a deserving young artist from a historically black college or university. Latifah may attend, says Minatee, and honorary chairpersons, including gospel great Cissy Houston (mother of Whitney) and Warwick, as well as Governor Phil Murphy, may also appear.  

“This will be a time for celebration,” says Minatee, who is still recovering from a stroke she suffered in 2015. “We’re grateful to God for all of it.”

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Meet the Pole Dancer Down the Street


Champion pole dancer Sabine Dworak gives pole classes in her Glen Ridge living room. She came to the activity after an injury sidelined her from dancing. Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser



Sabine Dworak seems almost pixie-like with her blonde hair pulled into a tight ponytail, a face usually free of makeup and a soft voice that retains a hint of a German accent. At a bit over 5 foot 3, the Dusseldorf native weighs a mere 107 pounds.

But if you’re invited into her sunlit Glen Ridge living room, you’ll soon realize that Dworak is no ordinary pixie. Maybe it’s her 8-inch patent-leather platform heels, the sofa on wheels, or the almost wall-size mirror, also on wheels. Then again, it could be the room’s two floor-to-ceiling poles.

Dworak, 52, is reigning world champion of the masters-class division of the Pole Sports & Arts World Federation. She’s a pole dancer, a pole athlete, or as she says, “a pole everything.” Part acrobat, part dancer, part exhibitionist—she once walked across Times Square on her hands for a video—Dworak is a star in a sport that aspires to inclusion in the Olympics. But she’s also an unabashed participant in the exotic version of the activity. That doesn’t mean nudity or stripping (despite occasional gossip in town), but it does involve scanty clothes (sports bra and bikini bottom), butt rolls, high, high heels, and calculated hair whipping.

Dworak, married and the mother of two, came to the sport about 10 years ago after a stress fracture in her foot sidelined her from dancing. A friend and fellow dancer suggested she go aerial. In addition to competitions, she performs at anniversaries and special events and gives pole-dancing lessons, sometimes in her home. When she rolls the sofa into the hall and closes the pocket doors, her living room becomes a pole-dance studio.

For some students, already dancers, the class is about technique. But she’s also happy to teach women to be sexier. 

Sydney Harp of Newark met Dworak in Johari, a Montclair lingerie store, about six years ago. She has been taking pole classes with Dworak on and off ever since. Does it make her better in bed? “I would say so, yeah,” she giggles. “I would say my fiancé’s very happy.” Harp has a pole in her Newark home, a Christmas present from said fiancé.

And while other Glen Ridge moms might occasionally be a little chilly toward Dworak, they have no qualms when she donates a free lesson to their fundraising auctions—like last fall’s Glen Ridge Educational Foundation gala. At that event, the winners bid $1,400 for a pole party. They’ve only recently contacted her about scheduling their prize. That’s not unusual. After some auctions, Dworak doesn’t hear from the winners at all. 

Dworak thinks people shy away from pole dancing for fear they might not be fit enough or they’ll have to reveal too much skin. Still, she has her “fingers crossed” that her pole party for the Glen Ridge winners will be a success. “I will serve them wine after the party and will have some snacks ready,” she says. “I really want to make it special, and I also want them to feel comfortable.”

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Southside Johnny, Jason Alexander, George R.R. Martin Top NJ Hall of Fame’s 2018 Class


Photo courtesy of Gary Gellman/Gellman Images.



Gov. Phil Murphy announced the New Jersey Hall of Fame’s newest inductees on Monday during a ceremony at the organization’s exhibit at Newark Liberty International Airport. Among the local luminaries who will be honored this year are Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin, musician Southside Johnny Lyon and Seinfeld actor Jason Alexander.

The induction ceremony will be held on October 27 at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park.

Other members of this year’s class include sports columnist Jerry Izenberg, photographer Timothy White, rock band the Smithereens, restaurateur Tim McLoone, businessman Arthur F. Ryan, physician/professor Victor Parsonnet, former New York Giants Harry Carson and Bart Oates, and gymnast Laurie Hernandez. Posthumous inductees include author Peter Benchley, businessmen J. Fletcher Creamer Sr. and F.M. Kirby II, banker/philanthropist Mary Roebling, activist Elizabeth Allen and basketball player/coach Anne Donovan. Martha Stewart, a previous Hall of Fame selection, is also expected to be inducted this year.

Each year, New Jersey residents are invited to submit recommendations for deserving inductees. Those suggestions are collected and considered by a selection committee, which then determines a list of 100 potential nominees. The NJ Hall of Fame Academy narrows down that list to 50, after which the public is invited to vote on final nominations. Individuals who receive the most votes in each of the five categories—Arts & Letters, Enterprise, Performing Arts, Public Service and Sports—are automatically inducted; the board then deliberates to determine additional class members. 

Last year’s honorees included musician Steven Van Zandt, baseball star Al Leiter and author Harlan Coben.

The NJ Hall of Fame is currently in the design phase of its museum buildout at the American Dream complex in the Meadowlands, where it will provide a high-tech, immersive experience complete with a collection of artifacts and a virtual-reality theater. It is expected to open in December of next year.

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The Movement to Normalize Bike Riding for Women


Girls on Bikes founders, from left, Maseera Subhani, Kala La Fortune Reed and Jennifer Made at Military Park in Newark. “We want young girls to feel accepted,” says Subhani. Photo by Tony Gale



It was just another summer day for Kala La Fortune Reed when an offhand comment planted the seed that would blossom into a movement.

La Fortune Reed—at the time, a 20-year-old student at Rutgers-Newark—was heading home from Newark’s West Side Park when an older gentleman called out a compliment.

“Keep on doing what you’re doing—you don’t see a lot of girls doing that,’” she recalls him saying. She was simply riding her bike, a habit she had only recently embraced as a meditation practice and to get a closer look at her city.

From that comment sprouted the idea for Girls on Bikes (GOB), an initiative to get friends together for rides around Newark to “make a statement” and help normalize bike riding for women. And they could look fashionable while doing it.

It wasn’t long before La Fortune Reed realized there were larger issues underlying why so few women, let alone young girls, were out riding their bikes.

Cost is one factor. Bikes can be expensive and are easily stolen. Perception is another. La Fortune Reed says there’s a stigma in the community against those who are unable to afford a car or public transportation. Finally, there are safety concerns. A lack of bike lanes contributes to keeping women off two wheels. In one survey, women also cited a lack of fellow female riders in their community, as well as the fear of looking “silly on a bike” as barriers to riding.

La Fortune Reed acknowledges all of these factors. “When I was riding my bike, my community members were kind of looking at me as an oddball,” she says. “It seems out of the loop; why is this girl riding her bike? It’s not safe. Is she from here? Who rides their bike anymore?”

To make an impact, La Fortune Reed teamed with friends and fellow Rutgers-Newark students Maseera Subhani and Jennifer Made. (La Fortune Reed and Made have since graduated; Subhani gets her degree this month.) The trio established GOB as a nonprofit with the mission of empowering women and young girls to participate in recreational activities. The goal: to transform participants’ lives and reshape the image of urban life in Newark.

Subhani handled the public relations and marketing, while Made developed a curriculum for youth workshops and after-school programs. They made fashion a part of the initiative, encouraging riders to wear whatever makes them happy, from a cycling jersey to a fur coat. Local nonprofits donated bicycles and safety equipment, and a slew of volunteers joined the effort.

The group’s first official workshop was held at Rutgers-Newark in April 2017. Since then, GOB has held dozens of events, from community bike rides exploring different areas of Newark to DIY helmet workshops and learn-to-ride sessions. Workshops emphasize the importance of exercise, but also focus on leadership, healthy eating, self-care and self-expression.

To date, GOB has partnered with six Newark schools, hosting more than 140 participants in youth workshops and after-school programs. They’ve also hosted more than 90 participants on monthly GOB rides and tours and have teamed with local nonprofits for various fundraisers and to raise awareness of community issues.

Heading into their second season, GOB’s leaders are looking forward to continuing to empower women and young girls across Newark and beyond.

“We want young girls to feel and know that they’re accepted by older women and girls of the same age,” Subhani says. “It is about sisterhood. Boys are always welcome, but [we’re] there to create a safe space for casual bike riding for women in an environment that wasn’t there before.”

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Historic Home, Once a Hub of Black Activism, Reopens in Red Bank


New apartments peek out behind Maple Hall. Courtesy of Tyler Osborn



In the first decade of the 20th century, a stately house with a mansard roof on the west side of Red Bank was a gathering place for African-American intellectuals and activists working to secure the rights their nation denied them.

“This was the hub,” says Walter Greason, a Monmouth University professor and the president of the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation. The foundation oversees the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center, which officially opens May 23 in the meticulously rehabilitated house. “This was the vision of what [Fortune] thought was possible in terms of racial equality in this country.”

Timothy Thomas Fortune was born into slavery in Florida in 1856 and rose to become the influential editor of the New York Age, the leading black newspaper of its time, and the founder of the National Afro-American League. “Before there was the NAACP or the Niagara Movement, there was Fortune,” says board vice president Gilda Rogers, referring to the civil rights organizations that followed Fortune’s group. “He’s been called the bridge to the modern-day civil rights movement.”

Fortune lived for 10 years in the Red Bank home he called Maple Hall. Despite the efforts of a small group of preservationists, the house was on the verge of demolition in 2016 when local developer Roger Mumford came forward with a plan. He would build a 31-unit apartment building (with Mansard roof) at the rear of the 1-acre lot, and restore Maple Hall at the front. “What I try to do,” says Mumford, “is find economic solutions to things that I believe in.” He would not disclose the cost of the restoration.

Fortune was a close associate of many prominent African-Americans of his era, including Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells and Marcus Garvey. Fortune’s “core message,” says Greason, was a belief that “African-Americans can stand on their own feet and create their own independent institutions if not obstructed by racist violence, terrorism and policies.”

The new cultural center is intended as a venue for discussion and advocacy—much as it was in Fortune’s time. Says Rogers, “We want to be able to bring some of that kind of energy there again.”

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Camden Celebrates Walt Whitman’s 200th Birthday


Poet Walt Whitman called Camden his home from 1873 until his death in 1892. His roamings around New Jersey included a day trip to Atlantic City, which inspired him with its “uninterrupted space.” Bettman/Getty Images

“I celebrate myself, and I sing myself,” Walt Whitman declared in Song of Myself, one of his earliest poems. Camden is taking that sentiment to heart with a celebration of the legendary poet’s 200th birthday on May 31.

“Camden gave Whitman an environment where he could reflect on the world,” says Leo Blake, curator of the Walt Whitman House, a National Historic Landmark. Born on Long Island, Whitman moved to Camden in 1873 at the age of 53, staying with his brother, George. He purchased his house at 328 Mickle Boulevard (now 328 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) in 1884 for $1,750. During his Camden years, Whitman published Specimen Days, a collection of essays that includes his observations about the Civil War, and updated his most famous collection, Leaves of Grass, three times.

Whitman also found time to explore South Jersey. Two of his poems—Patrolling Barnegat and With Husky-Haughty Lips, O Sea!—were inspired by visits to the Jersey Shore. He made a day trip to Atlantic City by train in January 1879. A horse-and-carriage ride on the beach left him marveling at “the uninterrupted space, shore, salt atmosphere [and] sky.”

The poet’s impact was international. Irish authors Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker visited him in Camden. Wilde, then 27, met with Whitman in January 1882, and the two discussed their craft over homemade elderberry wine. Wilde was unrestrained in his praise of Whitman. “Of all your authors, I consider Walt Whitman the grandest and noblest,” he told the Boston Herald.

The Camden celebration includes legacy tours of the Whitman house from May 22–June 8, and “Democratic Vistas: Whitman, Body and Soul,” an exhibit of photos, paintings, glassworks and sculptures that runs May 30–December 7 in the Stedman Gallery on the Rutgers-Camden campus. For a complete list of events, visit whitmanat200.org/calendar.

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Local Teen Uncovers Family Histories—and Secrets—for Curious Clients


Medford Lakes High School senior Eric Shubert has made a business of genealogy, researching family trees for more than 1,000 clients. Photo by Jauhien Sasnou



Eric Schubert’s friends call him “the world’s oldest teenager,” and maybe they have a point. The 17-year-old senior at Shawnee High School in Medford Lakes runs a thriving business in a field that’s more likely to attract people planning for retirement than fielding college acceptances. When he isn’t studying or volunteering (he helps oversee two nonprofits), he spends his time tracing family histories and tracking down long-lost relatives. He launched his company, ES Genealogy, in early 2016, and over the past three years has unlocked family mysteries for hundreds of clients across the country.

Those mysteries might have been unsolved were it not for a bout of pneumonia Schubert suffered in fourth grade. Stuck at home for days, he felt as sidelined by boredom as by his illness. His mother saw an advertisement for the genealogical website ancestry.com and suggested he check it out to pass the time. “I was always interested in history,” says Schubert, who had already committed to memory all the presidents and their terms of office in chronological order. “As soon as I figured out that genealogy was history, I was hooked.”

Initially, he concentrated on tracing his own family history, discovering, for example, that his family surname wasn’t originally Schubert, but Grzegorzewski. (“Thirteen letters, very Polish,” he says. “My grandfather changed it before he got married.”) But after four years, he figured he had learned most of what there was to know about his personal ancestry. He might have given up his hobby for good, but luckily, he needed a job.

“At 15,” he says, “there wasn’t much I could do.” So either he or his mother—the two can’t quite agree on this point—decided he should find out if folks in the community might want to hire him to research their family trees. “I thought it was a great idea,” Schubert recalls, “but I didn’t think there would be that much interest. Boy, was I wrong.”

Soon he was riding a wave of genealogical fascination generated by sites like Ancestry and MyHeritage and DNA services like 23 and Me. In fact, based on data from 2016, genealogy is America’s second most popular hobby (the first is gardening). Since launching his business, Schubert has delved into the family histories of more than 1,000 clients, compiling custom scrapbooks and family trees. He’s learned that the Internet will take him only so far, and that sometimes, only an old-fashioned letter will secure the information he’s seeking. Among the secrets he’s uncloaked are a client’s relative born at the same time and in the same small Austrian town as Adolf Hitler, and for an adoptee, the unsettling fact that her birth parents died by murder/suicide.

He hopes he can keep the business going over the next four years while he attends Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. “I can never stay away from it for too long,” he says of an enterprise that’s also clearly a passion. At college, he plans to study social studies education and—no surprise—history.

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Music Fests Jam into South Jersey


Courtesy of Beardfest



Over the past decade, South Jersey has become fertile ground for a burgeoning music festival scene with a mindful vibe. On weekends throughout the warmer months, music lovers of all ages—plus crafters, artisans, holistic healers and more—join musical performers at these cultural events that are more than just concerts. For many performers and attendees, they’re communal experiences.

“They bring like-minded people together,” says Jeremy Savo, singer/guitarist of the band Out of the Beardspace and co-founder/co-director of Beardfest, an annual festival in Hammonton.

“A lot of bands and different artistic collaborations have been spawned at the festival. Bands meet and put on shows together,” says Savo. “An artist meets a band and ends up doing their cover art. People in the yoga community meet and collaborate outside the festival. It’s a place that stimulates a lot of creative activity.”

The oldest of these gatherings, the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival, has grown to more than 5,000 attendees a year since launching five decades ago. Most of the South Jersey festivals are much smaller. Camp Jam in the Pines and the Electric Halloween festivals each host up to 1,000 attendees each year. Two of the festivals—the South Jersey Wine & Music Festival and the Suburban Sensi Family Gathering—are new this year.

The festivals tend to be clustered in South Jersey, in large part because of the availability of affordable, festival-friendly spaces. “We’re in the middle of the Pine Barrens,” says Lori Dean-Gibson, one of the organizers of the 20-year-old Camp Jam in the Pines held at Paradise Lakes Campground in Hammonton. Paradise Lakes is home to three of this year’s festivals; Southwind Vineyard in Millville— which discontinued winery operations last year—will host two. These secluded, rural venues are ideal for some of the festival daytime activities, such as morning yoga or environmental-awareness workshops.

Discovering new artists is another festival perk. The bands, a mix of local South Jersey/Philadelphia artists and national touring acts, perform a variety of genres, including jam music, psychedelic rock, folk, bluegrass, jazz and electro house.

All this creative activity comes at a fraction of the cost of major music festivals. Even with the cost of camping included, none run more than $130 for the weekend, and many permit you to bring your own food and drinks into the festival grounds. You may never choose to leave New Jersey to attend a music festival again.

Here’s a look at this year’s festival lineup:

Camp Jam in the Pines

May 16–19
Paradise Lakes Campground, 500 Paradise Drive, Hammonton

Performers: Philthy, Dynamo, Swift Technique, Phillybloco, Gooch and the Motion and others. Special entertainment: Young-artist workshop, face painting, morning yoga, drum circle, fire spinning, tie-dye workshop. Cost, including camping: adults $60-$130; teens 12-16, $35-95; 11 and under free. For more info and tickets, click here.

Courtesy of Appel Farm Arts & Music Center

Appel Farm presents South Jersey Arts & Music Fest

June 1–2
Appel Farm Arts & Music Campus, 457 Shirley Road, Elmer

Performers: Southern Culture on the Skids, Gina Chavez, Williams Honor, Hymn for Her and others. Special entertainment: Arts Camp Pop-Up for kids, music, visual art, dance, STEAM, art of winemaking and more. Cost: single-day $25; two-day $40; two-day plus camping $60; 13 and under free. For more info and tickets, click here.

Beardfest

June 13–15
Paradise Lakes Campground, 500 Paradise Drive, Hammonton

Performers: Out of the Beardspace, the New Deal, Too Many Zooz, Anomalie, the Main Squeeze and others. Special entertainment: Music, art, movement classes, yoga, environmental awareness and more. Cost: general admission, including camping, $130; 12 and under free. For more info and tickets, including VIP and other packages, click here.

South Jersey Wine & Music Festival

June 29–30
Unexpected Farm, 1394 Piney Hollow Road, Newfield

Performers: Stealing Savannah and No Relation Band. Special entertainment: Pony rides, local wine sampling from Bellview Winery and DiMatteo Vineyards. Cost: single-day $30; two-day, including camping, $45; designated driver $15; 18 and under free. For more info and tickets, click here.

Sensi Family Gathering Music & Arts Festival

July 19–20
Southwind Vineyard, 385 Lebanon Road, Millville

Performers: Suburban Sensi, Mephiskapheles, Karina Rykman Experiment, Cheezy & the Crackers, Jah People and others. Special entertainment: Art installations, games, acoustic performances in the campgrounds and more. Cost: two-day, including camping, $75. For more info and tickets, click here.

The Jugband’s Endless Summer Fest

August 8–11
Paradise Lakes Campground, 500 Paradise Drive, Hammonton

Performers: The Jugband, Kount Funkula and the P-Funk Outlawz, Montoj, Badd Kitt and others. Special entertainment: Live band performance Thursday night during arrivals. Cost: Full festival, including camping, $100; one-day $50; 11 and under free. For more info and tickets, click here.

Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival

August 30–September 1
Salem County Fairgrounds, Woodstown

Performers: Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Travelin’ McCourys, Balsam Range, Becky Buller Band, Appalachian Road Show and others. Special entertainment: children’s stage on Saturday; informal jamming in the campground. Cost: Gate price for weekend, including camping, $125; discounts for early purchases. For more info and tickets, click here.

Electric Halloween Festival

October 18–19
Southwind Vineyard, 385 Lebanon Road, Millville

Performers: Lineup of 40+ bands to be announced in June. Special entertainment: magic show, fire performances, wrestling, awards for costumes, decorations and Hallowgames. Cost: weekend pass, including camping, $90; day pass $50. For more info and tickets, click here.


Additionally, these two festivals, each with a very different vibe, will take place in northern New Jersey:

Michael Arnone’s 30th Annual Crawfish Fest

May 31–June 2
Sussex County Fairgrounds, Augusta

Performers: Aaron Neville, the Marcus King Band and Neville Jacobs headline this annual celebration of the music and cuisine of New Orleans. For more info and tickets, click here.

Rock, Ribs and Ridges

June 29–30
Sussex County Fairgrounds, Augusta

Performers: 38 Special and Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes are the featured performers at this music-and-barbecue extravaganza. For more info and tickets, click here.

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What’s New Down the Jersey Shore in 2019


Courtesy of Centrifuge

MAY THE CENTRIFUGAL FORCE BE WITH YOU

The Casino Pier in Seaside Heights continues its post-Sandy recovery with the return of Centrifuge Centrifuge, long revered for spinning and twisting riders into hysteria. The revamped ride features pulsating music in a fog of multicolored strobe lights. —Dominique McIndoe

BRIELLE’S ITALIAN ACCENT

The DeRosa family ran the former Luna DeRosa restaurant and Savor Lounge in Seaside Heights. Their new dinner spot, La Mondina, opened this spring in Brielle (110 Union Avenue), in the space previously occupied by Rella’s Italian Tavern. Brothers Carmine and Nick DeRosa serve brick-oven pizza, pastas and classic entrées in a rustic Italian setting. Weekends bring live entertainment. —DM

Courtesy of Asbury Ocean Club Hotel

ASBURY PARK’S OCEANFRONT GEM

Where once stood a derelict construction site across from the Asbury Park boardwalk, there now soars the Asbury Ocean Club, a 17-story, glass-clad, high-rise with residences starting around $900,000 (for a one-bedroom condo). On its fourth floor is the ultra-cool Asbury Ocean Club Hotel (1101 Ocean Avenue), a 54-room luxury resort. Each guest room offers one-of-a-kind furnishings, private terrace and sweeping ocean views. Personal bellpersons set up towels and chairs on the beach or at the spacious pool. The Drawing Room, a floating glass house for guests and residents, features a piano bar and Mediterranean-inspired restaurant. Opening July 4th weekend; introductory rates are expected to begin at $295 per night. —Lauren Payne

BEACHWOOD TAKES ROOT

Chef and restaurateur Lucas Manteca brings his farm-to-table flair to Sea Isle City with Beachwood at the Dunes (8600 Landis Avenue). Located at the former home of Doc Magrogan’s Oyster House, Beachwood includes a lounge and full bar. —Julie Trien

Courtesy of Six Flags Great Adventure

SPRING INTO SUMMER

Six Flags Great Adventure’s Hurricane Harbor waterpark expands with a new Calypso Springs attraction. The 100,000-gallon beach-entry pool sports an obelisk-style fountain, periodically erupting geyser, open lounge deck, oversized poolside umbrellas and its own dining facility. —DM

Courtesy of Morey’s Surfside Pier

WATCH THE RUNAWAY TRAM, PLEASE

Wildwood’s distinctive yellow tram cars have been a boardwalk staple for nearly 70 years. Now, they’ve inspired the Runaway Tram, a family-friendly ride at Morey’s Surfside Pier. The ride climbs 40 feet on a swirling adventure along 922 feet of track. Also new from Morey’s: Flying Hatchets, where participants (16 or older) can test their skill at, yes, hatchet throwing. —JT

Courtesy of Hotel LBI

LBI ROOMS WITH A VIEW

An ambitious, upscale Long Beach Island vacation alternative, Hotel LBI offers 102 guest rooms, salon, spa, restaurant and indoor pool with retractable roof. Located at the site of the old Quarter Deck Inn at the entrance to LBI in Ship Bottom, the new hotel is several blocks from the beach, but promises sweeping views of the bay and ocean from its rooftop deck. —JT

MAKING PASSES IN AC

The Atlantic City Blackjacks launch their first season of arena football at AC’s newly renamed Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall. At quarterback for the Arena Football League franchise is Warren Smith, a Forked River native with three seasons of AFL experience. The team’s schedule includes home games vs. the Albany Empire (May 25), Baltimore Brigade (June 1 and July 21) and Philadelphia Soul (July 6). —JT

Courtesy of Boarding House

SURF’S UP AT THE BOARDING HOUSE

The Hirsh family, longtime proprietors of Cape May’s Montreal Beach Resort, roll out a new concept this summer with the Boarding House (810 Lafayette Street), an 11-room, surf-inspired hotel about 12 blocks from the beach. Each room features a surfboard rack along with soaps and coffee blends made by Cape May businesses. Local partnerships provide opportunities for biking, paddle-boarding and, of course, surfing. The new hotel is dog friendly, too. —JT

A PERFECT PAIR: COFFEE & GELATO

Childhood friends from Brooklyn, Rob Castore and Anthony Russo, recreate a slice of Italy in Asbury Park with Amici’s Gelato & Caffé (630 Mattison Avenue). The vintage-style café offers coffee from illycaffè, a third-generation Italian roasting company; fresh baked goods and pastries; and handmade gelato. For the latter, Castore and Russo teamed with gelato chef and Milan native Emiliano Graci to turn ingredients sourced from Italy into classic and American variations of the frozen dessert. Amici’s also serves panini, wraps, salads, sorbet, cannoli and frozen yogurt. —DM

Courtesy of Salt Spa

PEP UP AT THE SALT SPA

The Salt Spa is the latest luxury at the Reeds at Shelter Haven, Stone Harbor’s toniest hotel. The two-story, full-service spa features six treatment rooms, Turkish bath, blow-out bar, makeup studio, nail salon, waxing services, fully equipped fitness center and more. Salt Spa presents a wellness workshop on the first Sunday of every month. —DM

GRAB A BITE IN BAY HEAD

Burke’s Market (536 Main Avenue) brings gourmet prepared food, gelato and coffee to Bay Head at the former site of Curtis’ Central Market. Burke’s includes a spirits-and-wine shop, curated grocery selection and made-to-order sandwiches. Sweets are available at the adjacent Candy Cabana. —LP

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What Might New Jersey’s Legal Weed Market Look Like?




Peter Barsoom lives in Denver, but he really wants to come home to New Jersey. 

The son of Egyptian immigrants, Barsoom grew up in Jersey City and East Brunswick and earned his master’s degree in political science at Princeton University. For two decades, he was a successful Wall Street executive. But five years ago, he decided to roll the dice: He quit his day job at Intercontinental Exchange and dove headfirst into the nascent cannabis industry in Colorado.

Collaborating with botanists, chocolatiers and cannabis experts, Barsoom used his friends as guinea pigs and came up with a line of chocolate-and-cannabis edibles. He named his company 1906 Edibles, a reference to the year Congress passed the Wiley Act, which effectively began marijuana prohibition.

Today, he claims, 1906 Edibles is the fastest-growing edibles brand in Colorado. His products are in more than 200 Colorado recreational- and medical-marijuana dispensaries. Now he’s hoping to open a growing facility and dispensary of his own—in New Jersey.

Barsoom joins a long line of entrepreneurs, from near and far, champing at the bit to cash in on legal weed in New Jersey, thanks to a campaign promise of Governor Phil Murphy. But a bill that would legalize adult-use marijuana in New Jersey was pulled from consideration on March 25, when Murphy failed to garner enough support to guarantee Senate passage. At deadline, legislative leaders were regrouping and planning to reintroduce the bill later this year. 

Conventional wisdom remains that it is only a matter of time before recreational marijuana becomes legal in the Garden State. 

“History is rarely made at the first attempt,” Murphy told reporters in Trenton shortly after the bill was pulled just before a planned vote. “But eventually barriers do fall to those who are committed to breaking them down.”

Scott Rudder, a former Republican state assemblyman who is now president of the NJ CannaBusiness Association, endorses the governor’s optimism. 

“Legalization is inevitable,” Rudder tells New Jersey Monthly. “We know that our neighbors in New York State are actively moving forward, and the discussion is starting in Pennsylvania. And we know that Canada has already legalized, and Mexico is on the verge … We know this is going to happen, so it behooves us to make it happen sooner rather than later.”

Victor Herlinsky, general counsel for the New Jersey Cannabis Industry Association (NJCIA), is more succinct: “The question is when, not if.”

Legal weed would create a new $850 million industry for the state, according to a May 2018 estimate. The industry is projected to produce thousands of direct jobs here—growers, processors and dispensary workers—and an equal number of ancillary jobs, including accountants, chefs, lawyers, lobbyists, community-relationship managers, security personnel, real estate professionals, compliance experts, technology and software consultants, and home-delivery couriers.

Illustration by John Kuczala

The bill that was pulled from a legislative vote, known as the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization Act, would allow individuals 21 and older to possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis for personal use. Delivery services would be permissible, as would social consumption at dispensaries. The bill would also guarantee “expedited expungement”—or erasure—of prior arrests and convictions involving up to 5 pounds of marijuana. The bill had provisions that would incentivize participation in the marijuana industry of minority- and women-owned businesses, as well as disadvantaged communities. However, unlike other states, New Jersey would not allow home cultivation.

Opposition to the bill came from both sides of the legislative aisle. Concerns included training and funding of law enforcement to deal with marijuana-impaired drivers; the level of taxation for local governments; and the potential danger of edibles that could end up in the hands and mouths of minors.

Some legislators were concerned about the details of the expungement provision. “Five pounds is a lot of pot,” State Senator Christopher Bateman (R-Somerville) told the New York Times. 

A recent Monmouth University poll found that 62 percent of New Jerseyans support legalization; only 32 percent are opposed. Five years ago, the state was almost evenly divided. Lobbying is also on the rise. Cannabis businesses and interest groups increased spending on lobbying fourfold to $1.4 million in 2018 from $330,000 in 2017.

Just what that industry would look like in New Jersey will come into sharper focus if and when the enabling law is enacted. It’s likely that the first order of business would be the creation of a Cannabis Regulatory Commission, a five-person body whose mission would be to make the marijuana market secure, responsible and profitable. 

Given the need to set ground rules, it could be 18 months or more from legalization before any licenses are issued. Some interests are concerned that the illegal market could explode during the ramp-up period. New Jersey Policy Perspective estimates the black market for weed in the Garden State is worth more than $850 million a year. For that reason, it is expected that the first recreational licenses would be awarded to existing licensed medical operators, who are already preparing to expand their operations.

In hammering out the earlier weed legislation, Murphy and legislative leaders opted to tax legal weed by weight rather than price, which can fluctuate depending on market conditions. The most recent legislation would have set a tax rate of $42 an ounce. 

Currently, illegal marijuana is cheaper than cannabis sold at legal medical dispensaries, which charge a 7 percent sales tax—much less than the anticipated recreational tax. If the legal-marijuana tax were set too high, it could push consumers to the black market. Historians remind us that the illegal alcohol market thrived for years after the end of Prohibition because a well-established black market offered far cheaper prices. 

In addition to the state tax, municipalities hosting marijuana retailers could impose a 3 percent tax on the product under the legislation, while those that are home to a cultivator could get revenue from a 2 percent tax. Municipalities hosting a wholesaler could levy a 1 percent tax. The New Jersey League of Municipalities, the New Jersey Conference of Mayors and the New Jersey Urban Mayors Association want local taxes as high as 5 percent.

The legalization bill would have given municipalities 180 days after it became law to decide if they want to allow cannabis-related businesses, including marijuana sales, testing, processing and cultivation. As of March, as many as 50 towns had reportedly opted out. Rudder cautions town officials to take a wait-and-see approach. “Seventy percent of the towns in Colorado opted out when they legalized in 2012,” he said at a panel discussion hosted by the New Jersey Business Industry Association (NJBIA). “A lot of those towns are now trying to get back in.”

It’s a good bet you won’t find Bellmawr on the list of Jersey municipalities opting out of recreational sales. The Camden County borough already has a growing facility and the state’s busiest medical-marijuana dispensary. Curaleaf NJ, which runs the dispensary, has spent more than $20 million in Bellmawr setting up its operation, which opened in 2015, in a blighted, industrial part of town. In 2017, Curaleaf grew more than a ton of product to serve more than 6,000 patients, according to the state Department of Health. Curaleaf, based in Wakefield, Massachusetts, is a major industry player with 42 dispensaries and 12 cultivation sites; it operates in 12 states.

Curaleaf NJ president George Schidlovsky says New Jersey must keep a close eye on the quantity of marijuana it produces. (All NJ cannabis must be grown in state to avoid running afoul of federal law.) The state’s latest bill did not include any limits on the number of growing facilities or the amount of product they would be allowed to  grow.

That is an existential issue, according to Schidlovsky. “It is vital to avoid overproduction, since that can lead to everyone losing. State tax revenues can fall, quality can fall, patients suffer, and producers are marginalized,” Schidlovsky says. He cautions that overproduction can tempt producers to divert product to the black market within the state and across state lines.

California offers a cautionary tale. It was the first state to legalize medical cannabis (in 1996) and the sixth to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana. About $2.5 billion of legal cannabis was sold there in 2018, half a billion dollars less than in 2017, when only medical marijuana was legal. Experts say overproduction caused the decline in value and has spurred a competitive black market with cheaper weed. California took in $345 million in tax revenue from legal cannabis during the first year of regulated sales in 2018, according to the state’s most recent figures—a far cry from the $1 billion analysts had predicted. 

The opposite can also occur. When Nevada entered the legal market in 2017, its 47 licensed dispensaries proved incapable of handling demand. The product sold out in less than two weeks. State officials issued a “statement of emergency” and soon thereafter allowed medical dispensaries to sell in the recreational market. Nevada eventually recovered from this misstep and exceeded its own forecasts by selling nearly $425 million in the recreational market in its first 12 months.

The Nevada experience was a valuable lesson for George Archos, CEO of Chicago-based Verano Holdings, which grows and sells medical and adult-use weed in several states. “The most critical element of success is the launch; you need sufficient time for the existing licensees to ramp up,” he says. 

Verano has a cultivation and production facility slated to open in Rahway later this year and a medical dispensary in Elizabeth. If New Jersey legalizes recreational use, “we’ll be ready,” he says. (At press time, Harvest Health and Recreation Inc. announced a deal to acquire Verano for $850 million in stock.)

It is widely expected that New Jersey will initially limit the number of recreational dispensaries upon legalization. That’s also seen as essential for a healthy market.

“In Colorado, we have more dispensaries than McDonald’s and Starbucks,” says Barsoom, the edibles entrepreneur. That has driven down prices and profit margins. “With too many dispensaries,” he adds, “retailers cannot invest in well-trained and well-paid staff to deliver a high-quality retail experience.” 

But Chris Beals, a trustee and former vice president of the NJCIA, warns that too few outlets could fail to meet consumer demand, thereby fueling the illegal market. “Lawmakers must get it right or risk undermining the legal market,” he wrote in an op-ed for the website NJ Spotlight.

Barsoom predicts the New Jersey market for recreational marijuana will differ from the West Coast market, which he contends has a taste for stronger weed. “We don’t have that longstanding stoner culture in New Jersey,” says Barsoom. “This allows us to create something new, a market aimed at a more mainstream population of soccer moms and seniors, and not just young, stoner males.” 

The edibles entrepreneur narrowly missed the cut last year when New Jersey doubled its medical-cannabis licenses from six to 12. After putting up a $20,000 application fee, he had proposed a growing facility in Jersey City right next to Liberty State Park and a dispensary in Hackensack.

Undeterred, Barsoom is preparing for the next round of license applications. He has spent more than $600,000 on legal and consulting fees and real estate down payments. This time, he’s teamed with two former governors—Jim Florio is on his advisory board, and Jim McGreevey provided input on a training program for formerly incarcerated individuals. He has also lined up $40 million in financing. 

One of the selling points for legal marijuana is that it will be thoroughly tested and, theoretically, safe. “You’re not going to unwittingly buy an ounce of weed grown with pesticides or laced with fentanyl,” says the NJCIA’s Herlinsky, a partner in the Newark-based law firm Sills Cummis & Gross. 

That’s where Scott Begraft believes he will fit in. In 2011, Begraft turned a hobby into a business, opening a home-brew supply store in Sparta. Last year, he added a new product, cannabidiol (commonly known as CBD), a naturally occurring compound found in the resinous flower of marijuana or hemp plants, with little or no THC, the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological and physiological effects. Within two months, his CBD sales exceeded home-brew sales twofold.

Now Begraft is liquidating his home-brew products and moving exclusively into CBD and related products. His next venture, he says, will be cannabis testing. 

Currently, the New Jersey Department of Health operates one lab to ensure all cannabis products sold at the state’s medical dispensaries are safe and transparent regarding potency. Last year, it took four to six weeks to get lab results. Curaleaf’s Schidlovsky calls that “unheard of.” The lag resulted in shortages of several popular strains at the medical dispensaries and has left the state looking to outsource its testing operation, says Schidlovsky.

With that in mind, Begraft is in the process of acquiring a generic drug-testing lab in Branchburg and setting up a partnership with its former owner. He’s also partnering with a company that has developed testing software, which could be marketed to other labs. 

Ekaterina Sedia has a different type of marijuana test in mind. 

The Stockton University professor, who teaches plant ecology and botany, is coordinator of the school’s new cannabis minor program—the first in the nation. “This is a growing industry, and we want to prepare our students,” says Sedia.

Stockton launched the program last fall, offering two courses: Cannabis Law and Introduction to Medical Marijuana. Students filled the courses to capacity; 30 students have already declared a cannabis minor. This fall, Stockton will add two more courses—Social Botany and Cultivation—and launch an intern program. 

Meanwhile, in January, William Paterson University launched the Cannabis Institute, a think tank of sorts to provide research and analysis for policymakers.  

All kinds of institutions and businesses are showing interest in legal weed, a phenomenon not lost on Stu Zakim, a Montclair-based public relations executive with more than four decades in the business. His work for cannabis clients now takes up about 80 percent of his time. In 2013, he signed on as communications chief for the Marijuana Business Association (MJBA), a Seattle-based trade association. Last year, he organized the NJ Cannabis symposium for MJBA, a $400-per-ticket networking event and panel discussion at NJPAC in Newark. More than 800 people attended.

Says Zakim, “I can’t think of a better next chapter than using my skills to help change the image of and removing the stigma from this amazing plant.”


THE GREEN STUFF

Due to federal law, pot remains a cash business.

At a time when consumers use plastic for even the smallest transactions, marijuana—legal and medicinal—remains almost exclusively a cash business.

The reason is simple: Even in states where weed is legal, possession and sale violate federal law. Financial institutions that provide services to the marijuana business—such as credit card processing or 401K administration—risk criminal prosecution for aiding and abetting a federal crime and money laundering.

About 70 percent of the nation’s growers and dispensaries deal in cash only, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. In recent years, a number of state-chartered banks and credit unions have started to participate in the weed business in states where marijuana is legal. But financial institutions that choose to service the business are required to file a suspicious-activity report for every marijuana-related transaction.

Of course, federal legislation could change this picture. A congressional committee approved legislation in March aimed at increasing marijuana businesses’s access to banks, a move that heartened the pro-cannabis crowd.

For now, reliance on cash in the weed business remains a windfall for the security industry, which has a heavy presence at dispensaries and must guard all movements of cash outside the dispensaries. 

Kevin Hart, CEO of Green Check Verified, believes he has an answer to the cash question. Hart has developed software designed to ensure regulatory compliance for businesses and banks. The software records details of every legal transaction, while also tracking inventory and supply-chain data.

“What we have is two independent, highly regulated industries that want to work together, but they don’t know how,” Hart says. “Our solution is the bridge and the verification engine that connects both.” 

Green Check, based in Connecticut, is conducting three pilot programs and is in discussions with banks, businesses and government officials in 14 states, including New Jersey, where Hart says he has an agreement in principle with a state-chartered bank. 

Other alternatives to cash payments include blockchain, a cashless business-to-business solution, and various virtual money applications for consumers. But such transactions could also raise eyebrows at the federal level.

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