ROXBURY, NJ - Are you ready for Ledgewood Lager? How about Port Morris Porter or Succasunna Summer Ale?
A former roller skating rink in Kenvil that hasn’t seen skaters in more than three decades is being eyed as a future haven for craft beer lovers, and the would-be proprietor said he would consider naming his creations after places in Roxbury.
Long Valley resident Steven Ashton wants to open a micro-brewery in the building at the former Kenvil Arena, known to locals as simply the "Kenvil Roller Rink." The building, situated on 2.3 acres at 950 Route 46, is owned by the Gruber family, which also owns the Fran’s Wicker store in Succasunna.
If the project receives township approval, Ashton would lease the building from the Grubers. Their lawyer, Patrick Dwyer, appeared Wednesday before the Roxbury Planning Board to make a preliminary presentation on the idea called a "concept hearing."
The board expressed enthusiasm for the idea. “I like the concept of it,” said Roxbury Councilman Jim Rilee, who also serves on the planning board.
Ashton, in an interview, said he’s been brewing beer for 30 years and is a “master beer judge.” He told the planners he would name the venture Ashton Brewing and would probably name the beers after “the areas of Roxbury.”
A Lot of Potential
But before Ashton can begin making beer, the 10,000-square-foot building will need to be significantly updated. It is essentially a big empty shell with a leaky roof that would need a total “retrofitting” even before Ashton began installing brewing equipment and furnishings.
However, Ashton said much of the former roller rink’s hardwood floor is intact. He also said the wooden arches that support the curved roof are providing some exciting ideas for Ledgewood architect Kenneth Fox, who would design the brewery.
Ashton does not plan to sell food at the business, so he would not need a full-fledged liquor license. He will, however, need a microbrewery license similar to the type held by other area breweries including Czigmeister Brewing Company and Manskirt Brewing in Hackettstown.
He said his goal is to do a limited amount of canning at the site and some direct sales, but stressed he does not want to compete with local liquor stores and taverns. In fact, Ashton said he wants to “contribute to the local liquor stores and restaurants” by offering them a home-grown product to sell.
Roxbury Councilman Robert DeFillippo, who has repeatedly lamented the appearance of dilapidated buildings along the Route 46 corridor, said he hoped the Grubers not only fix-up the interior of the building but also the exterior.
“I agree too with everybody that it’s a great concept,” said DeFillippo, who also sits on the planning board. “But I will tell you that, from the starting point, this has been such an eyesore in the community, this building, the sense that there wouldn’t be a lot of work done to the exterior, that troubles me a little bit. “
Dwyer said the applicant understands that landscaping and other exterior aesthetic upgrades would take place.
The board members said they like the concept and hope the applicants work with Roxbury Planning Director Russell Stern to proceed with a formal application for the project.
The building is dear to the hearts of many long-time Roxbury residents. There is even a Facebook page - "I Went To Kenvil Roller Rink" - dedicated to memories of days skating at the facility.