By Mary Ann Bourbeau
After a tough six months, Two River area businesses owners, residents are optimistic about the summer season
Those who frequent the Jersey Shore know the pleasure of sitting on the beach on a late afternoon, dining alfresco on a warm summer evening, playing miniature golf by the ocean or games of chance on the boardwalk.
Despite the damage inflicted by Super Storm Sandy, much of the Jersey Shore is being rebuilt so people can experience those things as they always have.
Business owners are optimistic as the summer season is about to open. It is with great expectations that visitors from near and far will come to the Shore and support them as they reopen.
Kelly Ryan is looking forward to seeing the summer crowds again at her restaurant. Since it was destroyed by Sandy, The Boondocks Fishery in Red Bank has been completely rebuilt, thanks to members of her community. The Navesink Business Group organized a fundraiser to help her rebuild, and with the money, she designed her lobster shack to look exactly the way it did before the storm.
“People love it that way and I wouldn’t change a thing,” said Ryan, who reopened Friday, May 17.
As for whether the crowds will return this summer, Ryan is optimistic.
Professionally speaking, Ryan took two hits when Sandy struck. She also ran the kitchen at Donovan’s Reef in Sea Bright, which does not appear to be coming back.
“I don’t think I could have reopened two places, financially or emotionally,” she said. “I’m just looking forward to seeing everyone at Boondocks. Those people are not just my customers, they’ve become my friends.”
Marilyn Schlossbach owned five restaurants and was working on opening a sixth when Hurricane Sandy struck. She also had twin 4-month-old girls. Major damage to several of the restaurants, as well as her home, took a toll on her, but she is managing to put the pieces back together just in time for the summer season. Her Langosta Lounge in Asbury Park reopened on May 16. Pop’s Garage, which sustained major damage, will be rebuilt in a bigger space on the boardwalk, aiming for a July 4 opening. The Labrador Lounge in Normandy Beach suffered extensive damage, as did the home above it where Schlossbach lived.
“We were in such a groove before the storm,” she said. “I lost 75 percent of my staff at Langosta because they couldn’t wait for us to reopen. They needed to support themselves.”
“Asbury Park has a beautiful boardwalk that is rebuilt, and I think it will do very well,” she said. “I think people want to be at the beach and support the businesses on the coast. I’m looking forward to gaining some sense of normalcy in my daily routine and with the kids.”
Windansea in Highlands suffered comparatively minor damage when Sandy struck because the restaurant was rebuilt a few years ago to 16 feet above mean high tide. Dan Shields, a partner in Windansea, wasn’t quite so lucky. His home is across the street from the restaurant.
“The water went right under Windansea and into my living room,” he said.
Shields can laugh about it now that his home is rebuilt. So are the restaurant’s tiki bars, where he said he is adding more entertainment this year.
Shields also is looking forward to seeing the other area businesses get back on their feet.
“Some very good progress has been made, especially by my neighbors at the Inlet Café,” he said. “It’s great to see them open and doing business again. We are friendly competitors.”
Shields said because he is one of just a few restaurants in town that has reopened, his business has increased so far this season.
“I didn’t know which way it would trend,” he said. “I was afraid no one would come to the Shore, but so far it’s good, even with the lack of warm weather.”
Staci Gilchrist, the manager at Windansea, sees the restaurant as a respite for those that have struggled since the storm. “I hope it can be a place for people to sit outside, enjoy great music and take their mind off what they’ve been through,” she said.
Bob Sickles, owner of Sickles Market in Little Silver, is looking forward to business getting back to what it used to be. The Seven Bridges Road was shut down last July, making it difficult for customers to reach the store. Reconstruction of the bridge was slowed down due to Sandy, but it reopened last month.
“We’re finally getting back to normal,” he said. “A lot of people have to replace their landscaping, so that’s good for our garden business. People, of course, have to eat, so that’s good for our food business.”
Sickles is also looking forward to the restaurants, shops and beach clubs reopening in Sea Bright.
“We’re all kind of connected, so it’s important for everyone that the businesses are successful and the schools are in shape,” he said. “More businesses are opening all the time, so I hope that keeps moving forward as it has been. I’m optimistic. With a little hard work and perseverance, the whole area will get back to normal.”
Chris Wood, co-owner of Woody’s Ocean Grille in Sea Bright, was back in operation three months after the storm. Wood started the Sea Bright Rising organization, which has raised $1.25 million so far, helping more than 230 families and 12 businesses get back on their feet.
“There is no one more optimistic about Sea Bright than me,” he said. “I think things will come back a lot better than they ever were. It will just take time. Improvements are being made every day.”
Though he knows this won’t be a normal summer by any stretch of the imagination, Wood admits that business at Woody’s has been busier than usual, possibly because of the publicity he has received in regards to Sea Bright Rising. “Unfortunately, it could be because we are one of the only games in town,“ he said. “Having said that, I believe people are coming into Sea Bright to do whatever they can to support the businesses that were damaged during the storm.”
Sandy Hook reopened to the public on May 1 after the storm inflicted major damage to its sewers, electrical and phone lines, and 70 percent of its buildings. While the beach lost a negligible amount of sand, 80 percent of the dunes were washed away. They have since been rebuilt, along with some roads and bike paths that were damaged. Peter McCarthy, unit coordinator for Sandy Hook, expects the roads will be paved and the ferry landing opened by Memorial Day. Though he said it’s been hectic trying to get ready for the tourist season, he is really happy Sandy Hook is open again.
“Our biggest achievements for 2013 have been the little things, like having running water again,” he said. “It’s been a track meet, but I think we exceeded our own expectations. I’m looking forward to the season and seeing people come back and enjoy the park.”
McCarthy expects to see this summer about the same number of people who come to Sandy Hook each year.
“Of course it depends on access to other areas of the shore,” he said. “We could end up having more visitors this year.”
Tim McLoone has seen a rise in business lately at his Shore restaurants.
“January to March was just awful,” he said. “It could have been because people hadn’t received their insurance checks or they moved out of the area. The last six weeks, we’ve had a significant surge in business, but mostly on the weekends. I think it reflects the fact that people are displaced. They don’t live here anymore.”
McLoone also thinks the sudden increase in weekend sales is due to people who come to the area to see the damage and perhaps patronize area businesses.
“People are inspired to come to the Jersey Shore on an almost civic level,” he said. “The last few weeks have been better than we’ve ever done. I have every reason to believe that will continue.”
John Weber, mid-Atlantic regional manager for the Surfrider Foundation, also is looking forward to going back to the beach with his kids. Despite all the homes that were swept away, he doesn’t expect storm debris to wash up on the shore this summer.
“We’ve surfed in these spots all winter,” he said. “If there was something dangerous in there, we would have noticed it.”
His hope for the future is that the shoreline is rebuilt to a higher standard and not just put back the way it was.
“They shouldn’t give an endless amount of money to the Army Corps of Engineers to rebuild flat beaches that don’t protect us,” he said. “We need dunes to provide protection. We really need to rethink the Jersey Shore and go forward in a way that makes sense.”
Despite the destruction and heartache wrought by Sandy, people at the Jersey Shore remain optimistic about the future and are looking forward to a spring and summer filled with sunny weather.
“What I’m looking forward to is seeing the word ‘drought’ in the newspapers,“ McLoone said. “No offense to the farmers.”