Building Permits for Your Retail Shop

Before you start putting up walls and installing counters in your new retail shop, find out what you should do first.

Unless you’re renting simple office space, odds are you’ll need to make some modifications to the space, be it adding walls, flooring, paint, electrical, plumbing, or any combination thereof. Rarely will a space be perfect from the get-go, and building out can be expensive, especially if you don’t do your homework about building codes and permits. But I digress…

The space I found for my gun shop was basically a large rectangle with a smaller space in the back for storage and restrooms. Because it was a retail establishment, I knew that I’d need as much floor space as possible for displays, but I also wanted a small office area. So, I decided to build a wall to divide the space about 15 feet off the back wall.

My trusty contractor called the local building permit office and either through miscommunication or what my Mama calls “hearing what you want to hear” determined that no building permit would be required to erect the wall.

So construction began. Now, this was no ordinary wall, no sir. This wall was special. It contained two very large sheets of one-way glass, mirrored on one side, clear on the other, so I could sit in the office and gaze out onto the sales floor, but customers couldn’t see in.

OK, I admit it, maybe I watch too much “Law & Order,” but one of my dreams has always been to have a business in which one-way glass played a part. Since I hope to never have to visit the police station to identify those who have committed crimes against me, I figured this was my only chance.

So the wall was built. And what a magnificent wall it was, stretching floor to ceiling and wall to wall … OK, maybe it was just a normal wall, but those panes of expensive mirrored glass made it something very special to me. I couldn’t wait to stand on one side and make faces at unsuspecting customers on the other.

Once construction was over, I head to my local business license office to get what’s called a “certificate of occupancy” on the space. Things were going swimmingly until I started bragging about my magnificent wall. The building inspector started asking questions like did I get the proper permits, was it built to meet the specifications of that particular building, was it made of metal or wood, how big were the glass panes, where is Jimmy Hoffa, why is the sky blue…

And to each question I intelligently replied, “Uh…”

I know it’s hard to believe, looking at me now, but when I was a kid I could play cute and dumb and usually get out of any tough spot I happened to be in. Unfortunately, time and gravity have eroded my cuteness to the point that I just look pathetic when confused. That didn’t stop the building inspector from shaking his head in a “Shame on you, Mr. Bigshot Entrepreneur” fashion and telling me, “Mr. Knox, tear down that wall.”

Huh? Who do I look like? That Russian guy whose name I can’t spell?

It turns out that I did need a permit for the construction after all. I was supposed to submit architectural plans for the building department’s approval, I was supposed to have the wall inspected, the wall was supposed to have been built using metal framing to match the rest of the building, and on and on.

By the time the inspector finished telling me everything I should have done and what it would take to bring my wall into compliance, I decided that I could live without my beloved wall after all. And down it came.

Lessons learned? Back me into a butt-kicking machine and get your pencils ready because here they come.

Never trust anyone else to do your homework for you. This is especially true when it comes to thing like educating yourself on licensing and zoning. I’m not pointing my finger at my contractor, but if I’d made the call to the inspector’s office myself, I would’ve known the requirements before blowing a couple grand on a wall that ended up as rubble in the dumpster.

Always check the building code. The building I was moving into was constructed with metal studs and fire retardant sheetrock (who knew?). If I had known the materials for the wall had to match that of the existing structure, I would’ve used the proper materials and my wall would have passed muster.

Always get the proper permits. It was explained to me that, since my wall attached to the existing structure, I should’ve gotten plans approved and building permits before construction began. I wonder now: if the wall hadn’t been attached, would those permits have been required? Of course, then it would’ve been a partition and not a wall… Boy, this existential stuff really makes my head hurt.

After all was said and done, the wall was built and destroyed, the license granted, and onto the next phase I went.

The question I pose to you, dear friends is this: does anybody wanna buy some really cool mirrored glass?

Disclaimer: The content on this page is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal, tax, or accounting advice. If you have specific questions about any of these topics, seek the counsel of a licensed professional.

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