Wiccan shop owner accuses borough of discrimination

Herald News, Feb. 15, 2003
By CHRIS GALE, Herald News

LINCOLN PARK – Who’s afraid of witches?

Borough officials are, according to the owner of a witchcraft supply shop on Glen Road, and that’s why he turned to the American Civil Liberties Union on Friday.

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Kelli Klymenko, 30, owns Spellbound Metaphysical Shoppe, around the corner from Park Avenue. He called on the ACLU to determine if his rights have been violated by the borough.

He was denied permission to have a pagan Halloween celebration in Lincoln Park last year, Mayor Bernadette McPherson didn’t help him celebrate the opening of his store, and he still can’t get a permit for a sign advertising his business, he said.

He suspects the mayor and other officials don’t want a witchcraft store in town. It may also have to do with his being ordained by a Nevada group as a Wiccan priest, he said.

The Wicca religion is based on the tenets of pre-Christian religions and should not be confused with devil worship, he said. It was founded in the 1940s by a British civil servant. In his store, Klymenko sells oils, incense, candles and other items that have ceremonial significance for him.

“But sometimes, you just want a nice-smelling bath oil,” he said.

The manager of the borough’s nonprofit downtown authority, Robin Reenstra-Bryant, said no one in her agency has any problem with Klymenko’s religion. Borough ordinance requires Klymenko and shops his size to pay $150 a year to the Rutherford Downtown Partnership. The partnership has not approved a sign for his store because his application is incomplete, Reenstra-Bryant said.

“He’s a member of the partnership, and we treat him like we would any other business,” she said.

Klymenko needs to give her borough agency specifics on what the sign would be made of, pictures of what it would look like and other details.

“The partnership would be happy to approve his application,” she said.

McPherson said she had to talk with legal counsel before answering questions about Klymenko’s Halloween event.

The Halloween celebration was scheduled to feature a pagan wedding and psychics.

Klymenko had previously requested permission to stage the event at the borough’s Memorial Stadium. He was denied and tried to move it to Lincoln Park, across from Borough Hall.

An opinion by borough attorney Anne Marie Rizzuto, attached to the borough’s denial of the Lincoln Park application, says the blurry line between his religion and his shop was the issue.

“The Spellbound owners have been less than honest in their approach to the permit process,” Rizzuto wrote.

“They have attempted to cloak their request in religious terms because their unabashedly commercial venture was denied.”

In addition, Rizzuto’s statement pointed out that an ad for the event invited anyone to come.

The borough’s police were concerned they couldn’t provide security to the celebration and handle the trick-or-treaters that would be out that night, a police statement said.

There is understanding of Klymenko’s position among some businesses.

Bob Bulatowicz, 40, owner of Ernie’s Delicatessen on Franklin Place, said he’s also been unhappy with the treatment he’s received by the Rutherford Downtown Partnership.

Bulatowicz said the reconstruction of the bank across the street has taken parking away from his customers.

“I’ve been losing $100 to $150 a day. I’m getting killed by this bank,” he said.

He didn’t pay his annual partnership fee of $150.

After getting a letter from the partnership telling him the payment wasn’t optional, he said he’d send it, but grudgingly.

The money is necessary to keep the borough’s downtown revival rolling, Reenstra-Bryant said. Since the borough upgraded the streetscape and found money to improve facades, the number of vacancies on the main drag has gone to nil.

But some shop owners, like Bulatowicz, are chaffing.

“I do sympathize with the Spellbound shop,” he said.

Klymenko said he wants to hold a ceremony in a borough park for the summer solstice, June 21.

He may seek legal help to do it, he said.


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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday February 18, 2003.
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