Cultural Differences And Small Businesses

Image by Coffee Bean from Pixabay

Actually it is not really about cultural differences, but rather it is about small business owners, who have some difficulties navigating laws and regulations. The problem is when one opens a small business, one doesn’t have a handbook of laws and regulations in hand. One only comes across laws and regulations when unpleasant surprises descend and one is slapped with a fine or penalty from the township. And I have a small list of stories from the Asian immigrant community here, each preventable if one knows in advance of the rules, but of course one can’t know in advance. Small business owners are not lawyers and they are not likely to read a list of rules one should watch out for. I mean a lot of them don’t know English so well to read long passages and even if they know enough English, they don’t have the time or interest to read legal documents or rule books.

I have to say a lot are just plain common sense. Still there is a spectrum of common sense behaviors and people from different cultures fall into different end of this spectrum. Or sometimes it is superstition.

Township regulations

A lot of people don’t know that even if it is a very small electric water heater, its installation requires a plumbing permit and an electric permit from the township in New Jersey. And of course when the township comes to do its annual fire inspection of the store, it’s not going to pass. A fine, a penalty, and a repair… All add together. It has taken a month and the bills have not all arrived for the unfortunate store owner yet, but so far it’s almost $2000 dollars and the thing is still not over yet.

The problem with life is that often we are messed up by things we don’t know, forces we don’t recognize, outliers or accidental occurrences that we don’t usually encounter. When life is predictable, we complain about the boredom and the sameness; when the unpredictable happens, we can be shocked and devastated.

Tree Removal

I know this small business owner who’s having a lackluster year with a thinning profit. Of course more rational people will try to analyze it rationally for a solution, and more resourceful people will try to explore new opportunities. However this particular business owner is neither rational nor resourceful. What can he do? He needs to find a scapegoat and he finds it–it is the tree in front of his store.

This is a store on a street that is both residential and commercial, like Route 27 in Edison. This means the store owner can live on top of his own store, or live beside his own store.

“The tree is almost right in front of the store entrance. That means the tree is a barrier to all the good luck we should have received.” He says to his wife.

His wife concurs. She doesn’t really agree with him, but she feels sorry for him–the slowing down of the business takes a toll on his self image. She cannot afford to disagree with him right now since that will bruise his ego even more.

They try to cut down the tree, but people tell them that they need to have a permit from the township to do that. When they apply for such a permit, the township refuses them. It’s a busy street and the tree is part of the aesthetics.

Someone tell them that they can find a lawyer to deal with the township, but the lawyer fee is $1000 to start with, and the result is not guaranteed.

More To Tell

I still have more to say about this topic, like firecracker, tombstone, rent negotiations, and relationship with neighbors. However I may have to leave it for another day.

9 thoughts on “Cultural Differences And Small Businesses

  1. It’s unfortunate but there are some things that are just like that. The store that sold him the water heater should have asked him about his permit but they probably needed to make a sale so let the customer figure it out.
    The tree thing is interesting. He should contact a tree removal service and get a free estimate for what they might charge and see what they have to say.
    It’s kind of sad that there is no advocate available to help them. In our town we do have groups that will educate and advocate for potential small business owners but they aren’t perfect. There is also an Asian American Chamber of Commerce.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, you are soooo right. The store really should warn him and I guess the store didn’t. And it is such a big trouble and the worst thing is nobody knows how to deal with it at all since electric water heater is not very common. Most people have gas water heater, which is usually installed by licensed people.
      You just reminded me several stories about the Asian business associations and once in a while, one hears stories and I just need to weave them into interesting or at least readable posts.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can definitely see how some business owners may have issues understanding these laws especially if they are not great with English. I also wonder why so many specific laws exist. They seem somewhat unnecessary.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So true. There are rules about water heater, tree removal, firecracker, home improvement etc. I have to tell you one businessman bought a house and thought he got a good deal. It was after the closing of the deal, he realized that the town is considered a historical town in New Jersey where George Washington used to station his troops. Any home improvement that will be remotely related with the exterior will need a township permit. And only a small group of very qualified specialists can do the work and of course any small renovation will incur astronomical fees.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, so true. And I think that township, which used to be beautiful, is suffering a decline right now since people are unwilling to move there for fear of getting stuck with huge repair bills.


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