By Michele J. Kuhn
Brian George is bullish on Sea Bright.
“We’ll be back and we’ll be better than ever,” he said.
George, the longtime owner of Northshore Menswear, saw almost the entire inventory of upscale clothing swept out of the building at 1080 Ocean Ave. when both the Shrewsbury River and the Atlantic Ocean smashed into the store with Super Storm Sandy.
He is in the midst of making plans to reopen his store in Sea Bright early next year and will be located for the next three months at 45 West River Road, Rumson, in the same space he occupied 30 years ago when he first opened his haberdashery.
“Temporarily, we’ll be bringing the store to this office building,” he said of the Rumson pop-up shop.
The short-term location will be open seven days a week with the same hours as the Sea Bright store: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Tuesday and Friday-Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Then, sometime around March 1, George expects to move into a new Sea Bright location at 1127 Ocean Ave., in a building he is referring to as “Big Yellow.” The three-story building will be the new permanent home of Northshore Menswear with one big difference. The service and quality will be the same but George will be adding women’s wear to the clothing store.
After seeing the destruction that the storm brought Sea Bright, why is George intent on returning to the borough?
“First of all,” he said, “I have a love affair with the town. The people are genuine. It’s unique. When I was a kid growing up in Sayreville, we used to go to the public beach (in Sea Bright). My parents used to drive us through Rumson … I’ve told people that when I was a kid, this is where I would go to the beach. Now I look at it every day.”
The Sea Bright store is Northshore Menswear’s third location. The first is where George will return for three months and the second was in an older home he bought on East River Road in Rumson and where he stayed for 20 years.
“I knew when I got (to Sea Bright), I was vulnerable with the river on the back and the ocean on the front. I had to buy insurance, I knew it and it’s not cheap but you have to do it,” he said.
George, a Rumson resident, said it has taken a lot of work to arrange the temporary move to River Road. While the old building now sits eerily wide-open on the side, George has been gratified by the response he has gotten from others.
“Our vendors have been phenomenal, very supportive … We had nothing left, not my computer. My cash register is at the police department. It was banged up. All of our inventory was washed out of the building. We are starting from scratch; it’s like when we started 30 years ago.
“All of my customer lists are gone but people are calling me from all over the country, expressing their support, telling me that when we reopen, they will be there and asking us if we need any help. I think that’s really great,” George said.
George, who is an officer in the town’s business association, had prepared for the storm. Inventory was placed 4 feet above the floor level, merchandise was pushed to the back of the building, the windows were boarded up and the doors were sandbagged. “We never, ever realized that there would be a 12-foot surge from the river that would plow into the side of our building, taking the merchandise out when it receded,” he said.
“We’ve gotten calls from people … a good mile and a half from the store who had clothing of mine, fixtures of mine in their backyard. My pool table, my collection of 70 college football helmets … that are washing up in people’s yards,” he said.
The old building is condemned and will be demolished shortly.
The new building “is on a high point” he said. “I always liked the building. It has a lot of character.”
George said he feels for those who lost their homes in the storm.
“I lost basically some memorabilia I’ve collected over 30 years that’s dear to me and the inventory but, technically, it’s just stuff. It’s not my home,” he said. “We are insured at the store and so we’ll be able to bounce back. We weren’t touched at all at home.”
George said his business is like his “fourth child. It’s who I am … I’m a merchant. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do since I was a kid.”
He has affixed a wooden sign to the front of his former Ocean Avenue store that says: “ We believe in Sea Bright!… We’ll be back!”
“I really believe that,” he said. “Sea Bright is unique and I want to commit to that.”