Banks are getting out of the safe deposit business, and Jim Medalia’s Charter Private Safe Deposit, which opened on April 7 in Forrestal Village, is stepping in.

Medalia is best known for an earlier business venture. He was the founder of Just Balls, the Kingston-based dot-com that sold all manner of sports balls, raised as much as $10 million in venture funding even after the dot com bubble burst, and attracted a bright young staff. Medalia says that he parted ways "amicably" with Just Balls after its then CEO decided to move away from Internet sales and toward promotional marketing.

After he left Just Balls, Medalia and his wife, E-Ping, who is COO of Charter Private, began development of NWatt, a company that sought to help consumers cut their energy bills by upgrading to more energy-efficient appliances. Now it seems that the whole world is obsessed with "green," but that wasn’t so much the case a few years ago when the Medalias had a run at NWatt.

Were they perhaps ahead of their time?

"Oh, yes," says Medalia with a laugh. "I’m so bleeding edge that I’ve almost bled to death." But this time, he says, it will be different. He has started other businesses – Digital Graphics, a Manhattan graphic design and web building company, was the first – and he has learned along the way. The private safe deposit facility, he is sure, is a business idea whose time has come. He has dug deeper than a bank robber tunneling for treasure, and his research has made him sure that there is a need for a secure private place in which businesses and individuals can store their riches – whether in the form of grandma’s jewerly or a biotech’s secret formulas.

"Safe deposit boxes are a loss leader for banks," says Medalia. "Banks used to use them as a way to attract new accounts." But that is no longer the case, he says, citing WaMu and Chase/JP Morgan as examples of banks that no longer even include safe desposit areas in their new branch buildings. "There were no safe deposit boxes in the last 200 branches WaMu opened," he says.

Where banks still do maintain safe deposit boxes, the bulk of them tend to be on the small side. "There is a greater demand than supply of premium boxes," says Medalia, referring to larger safe deposit boxes, those that are 5" by 10" or larger. Boxes in his facility range up to 20" by 30" and at that size are about 24" deep. He also has more of them than does the average bank. Whereas many bank branches give over about 100 square feet of space to safe deposit boxes, Charter Private is 1,000 square feet. Its boxes are encased in a vault weighing 230,000 pounds. Designed by Diebold, it was trucked in on nine trailers.

Medalia says that his facility, the only standalone safe deposit site in New Jersey, has advantages over banks and home safes. One plus, he says, is security. "This is not a public space," he points out. "We know everyone who comes to the door." Four ID hurdles are required to get access to a box. When each customer arrives to go into his or her safe deposit box, a Charter Private staff member checks for photo ID, compares handwriting electronically, and requires a four-number PIN. An electronic key fob, issued when a box is rented, is required for entry.

"We tried out fingerprint technology," says Medalia, "but it didn’t recognize everyone." It didn’t do well with the prints of old people or with prints of people "in certain ethnic groups," he says. But technology is a big part of Charter Private’s business model, and the company plans to have a biometic security device in place soon.

Another thing Charter Private has going for it, says Medalia, is service. Because renting safe desposit boxes is all that it does, there is no waiting in line to see a teller or bank officer. The facility is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. For an extra fee customers will be greeted by an employee and given access to their boxes at any hour, 365 days a week.

There are always two people on duty. Customers can spread out in private rooms as they go over the items in their boxes, and can even get help with creating digital photos of the items they are storing.

Charter Private, which received $750,000 in start-up funding from 13 investors, can accomodate between 1,000 and 1,500 boxes in its facility. "We have one-third of the boxes in," says Medalia. "We’ll let the market tell us what size boxes to add."

"We’re really in the real estate business," he says. The company is renting space and will see just how its clients want it to be sub-divided. Break even will occur when about 300 spaces are rented. Yearly rentals range from $295 for a 5" by 10" to $3,495 for the largest space.

E-Ping Medalia says that the spaces are not really boxes at all, but rather are cabinets. "You can put multiple boxes in a cabinet," she says. "You can pre-sort." This means that a family could have all of its insurance papers, wills, and bonds in one box, its tiaras in another, and its prized photos and mementos in yet another. Businesses could put key employee agreements in one box, electronic back-up for recent projects in another, and intellectual property documents in a third.

Customers are expected to fall evenly between businesses and families. Medalia says that, while some may see Charter Private’s service as pricey, it is considerably less expensive than insuring valuables stored in a home or office safe. This is especially true for families now that the cost of commodities has risen so high, he says. "The jewelry you inherited from grandma that was worth $10,000 three years ago could be worth $100,000 today."

Medalia says that among the lessons he has learned in his life as a serial entrepreneur is that a company has to have built momentum within six months. "At that point you shouldn’t be chasing people," he says. "They should be calling you. That doesn’t mean that I would give up after six months, but I would at least make adjustments."

Medalia is focusing on getting his newly-opened facility going, but he is already looking ahead. He plans to open a second facility soon after the first reaches break even. Charter Private’s first location is three miles north of downtown Princeton. He says that, ideally, the second will be three miles to the east or perhaps to the south. The plan is to build out in concentric circles – and to do a lot of building.

Says Medalia: "We want to be Fort Knox meets Starbucks."

Charter Private Safe Deposit Company, 128 Stanhope Street, Princeton 08540; 609-919-1925; Jim Medalia, president.

DriverTech, 213-214 Commons Way, Montgomery Commons, Building 2, Princeton; 609-933-8644; fax, 609-482-8644. Calvin W. Rogers, sales manager. Home page: www.drivertech.com.

DriverTech, a Utah-based communications company serving the trucking industry, has opened a regional sales office in Princeton.

According to Cal Rogers, the office’s sales manager, DriverTech has come to Princeton to take advantage of the region’s 100-plus trucking companies. Rogers says DriverTech connects truckers with shipping companies through combination satellite, cellular, and wi-fi links. This allows truckers to stay in constant contact with dispatchers.

A 1991 graduate of Colorado College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English, Rogers is no stranger to fleets. From 1992-1995, he served as an assistant to vice admiral Eugene Henn of the U.S. Coast Guard. From there he moved onto Vibrint Tech, a precursor to TiVo, and then spent several years with ALK Technologies on Herrontown Road, where he helped develop a program that allows trucking companies to pre-calculate tolls. A Princeton resident, Rogers joined DriverTech a year and a half ago.

Edda Technology, 5 Independence Way, Princeton 08540; 609-919-9889; fax, 609-919-9779. Jianzhong Qian, president and CEO. Home page: www.edda-tech.com.

Edda Technologies, a developer and marketer of diagnostic imaging software, has moved from its Washington Road location to Independence Way. The company’s lead product is IQQAr-Chest software, which allows real-time interactive diagnoses of digital chest X-rays.

Edda Technology also has an office in Shanghai.

Lawrence R. West Attorney at Law, 41 Airpark Road, Suite 1, Princeton 08540-5796; 609-279-1777; fax, 609-279-1778. Lawrence West, principal.

Defense attornety Lawrence R. West, a former longtime prosecutor for Middlesex County, has left his offices at 41 Airpark Road. West’s suite is now occupied by Air Transport, a charter flight company. There is no forwarding information.

Grayson Bridge LLC, Box 492, Princeton 08542; 609-688-0773; fax, 609-688-8609. Alison Donald, owner. Home page: www.graysonbridge.com.

KMA Events, an event planner, is now doing business as Grayson Bridge LLC.

LendAmerica, 186 Princeton-Hightstown Road, Princeton Junction 08550; 609-297-0464; fax, 609-482-8100. Scott Stein, managing director. Home page: www.lendamerica.com.

The Mortgage Zone, a residential mortgage firm with an office located at 186 Princeton-Hightstown Road, has changed its name to LendAmerica.

Scott Stein is the company’s managing director. He came to the Mortgage Zone from the commercial construction industry four years ago to start the firm’s operations in New Jersey. The company has 500 workers at its headquarters in Hauppage, New York, and is licensed in 13 states.

Windsor Insurance Brokerage Firm Inc., 50 Princeton-Hightstown Road, Suite N, Princeton Junction 08550; 609-897-0747; fax, 609-897-0757. Richard Leung, vice president.

For-Am Insurance Brokerage Firm, which opened its Princeton Junction offices in 2006, has changed its name to Windsor Insurance Brokerage. The firm remains a sister company to For-Am, which is a full-service insurance firm based in New York City. The company specializes in contractors liability insurance, small business, and homeowners insurance.

By Jones, 118 Rabbit Hill Road, Princeton Junction. Sybil Jones, president.

By Jones, an advertising agency, is leaving New Jersey and heading for Savannah. Founded in 1981, the agency has had as many as 10 employees.

Gift Planning Advisor LLC, 5 Forest Road, Wayne, Pennsylvania 19087; 610-688-0212. Lynn Ierardi, president. Homepage: www.giftplanningadvisor.com.

Lynn Ierardi moved her financial consulting firm from Franklin Drive in Plainsboro to suburban Philadelphia. She focuses on gift planning for nonprofit companies.

Princeton Fulfillment Systems, 1206 Cranbury South River Road, Cranbury.

Princeton Fulfillment Systems, a direct marketing and printing firm, appears to have closed its office on Cranbury South River Road. The firm’s telephone no longer picks up and its fax does not answer.

Providian Health Care Systems, 3371 Route 1, Lawrence Commons, Suite 216, Lawrenceville.

Providian Health Care Systems, which had been leasing 2,200 square feet at Lawrence Commons, has no listed telephone number. Mail to this address was returned.

Quantum Financial Home Loans Inc., 2135 Route 33, Hamilton.

Quantum Financial Home Loans apparently vacated its Hamilton office in January. The company’s website is gone and, though the phone number is listed in directory assistance, it no longer reaches Quantum. This was a mortgage processing office.

Read Right Educational Services, 151 North Union Street, Lambertville.

Read Right Educational Services, a private tutoring firm, appears to have left its offices on North Union Street in Lambertville. Mail to its address has been returned and the telephone has been disconnected.

Transitional Management Associates (TMA/USA), 5 Independence Way, Suite 300, Princeton.

Transitional Management Associates, a cross-cultural team-building and consulting firm, appears to have vacated its offices at 5 Independence Way. The company’s phone number no longer answers; no forwarding address is available.

John A. Wheeler, 96, on April 13. A Hightstown resident and former Princeton University professor, he was involved in the Manhattan Project to build an atom bomb, and later gave the name "black holes" to the space phenomenon that occurs when a dead star collapses on itself and creates a mass so dense that light cannot escape from it.

Phyllis Soriero, 52, on April 11. A Lawrenceville resident, she had been a real estate agent with Prudential Fox and Roach Princeton for 12 years.

Brian Gage, 59, on April 11. An art and antiques dealer, he owned Brian Gage Antiques in Hopewell.

Linda Preston, 60, on March 27. She was the co-founder of Princeton’s Special Education PTO.

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