NFIB/New Jersey Member Profile: Doug Carnes, owner, Wilbraham Mansion B&B

Date: September 01, 2015

When Doug Carnes bought the business, he paid his mother’s asking price with the stipulation that he could put a new building in the back. The addition, called The Suites at Wilbraham Mansion, features all the modern amenities that travelers want but can’t get in the historic Mansion, including two-person Jacuzzi tubs, double showers, central air and mini fridges in the closets.

“There’s no way we could have taken the front building and renovated it because it doesn’t generate enough rental capital to cover the expense of what it takes to keep up a historic property,” Carnes says. Now, rentals of the back building suites sustain the maintenance of the front house.

A lot of people don’t understand this about historic buildings, Carnes says: “Historic homes aren’t charity. Somebody has to invest in them to keep them up, and to do that requires a lot of money. We put in probably close to $50,000 a year on that house, just in systems and paint and wood and structure and carpenters, electricians, plumbers. We spend a lot of money keeping that house as good as it can look. It doesn’t come out of nowhere; someone has to earn that.”

For Carnes, New Jersey regulations, fees and fines have made the process difficult.

For example, there have been a slew of new regulations concerning his indoor pool, including the addition of a ground-fault circuit-interrupter for the pump and a special fitting over the drain. Carnes is also fighting a new ADA regulation stipulating that the pool be equipped with a chair that lifts disabled customers from the pool deck into the pool and vice versa, despite the fact that the historic B&B isn’t ADA-compliant in the first place.

“Every year, there are new things that you never hear about until an inspector shows up and says, ‘hey, you’re no longer in compliance,’” Carnes says.

Carnes has also had numerous run-ins with the Fire Safety Division of the Department of Community Affairs. Years back, Carnes’ parents installed a full-building sprinkler system in lieu of installing fire-rated doors at every opening in the home, which would block off the hallway and stairway and destroy the historic home. Carnes’ father then got a legally binding contract entered into law that summarized this agreement. However, when Carnes took over, the DCA attempted not to honor the contract and charged the business with a violation and shutdown notice. Although it was eventually resolved in Carnes’ favor, the ordeal cost him time, money, energy and aggravation. The DCA targets the area of Cape May because it’s an area with many historic Victorian homes, which don’t fit the code and can’t be made to do so, Carnes says.

“It goes from the miniscule on up to threatening your business,” Carnes says. “And they do not care.”

Issues like these inspired Carnes to join NFIB.

“The reason I joined was because I’m really sick and tired of small business getting the shaft,” he says. “If this is how we have our voice, then we will support that. There’s really no other way. This is the way the rules of the road are. You either play with them or you don’t get a voice. And so, we prefer a voice.”


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