By John Burton
SEA BRIGHT – Steadily, if somewhat slower than the owners would like, businesses are coming back, rebuilding, restoring and working to get the borough’s downtown district up and running, as much as possible, for the all-important summer season.
The business district, like the rest of the small oceanfront community, saw substantial damage from Super Storm Sandy. Since the late October storm swept through the area, people have been cleaning up and trying to get their lives back in order.
On the local business front, the borough has seen some reopenings, including such long-standing operations as the venerable Harry’s Lobster House, Bain’s hardware, and Woody’s Ocean Grille, Northshore menswear, Dunkin’ Donuts, Yumi restaurant, Navesink Marina, and Century 21 Homes of Distinction Real Estate.
Preparing for openings in May are Sea Bright Pizza and Grace and the Dudes. Other shops are making strides to reopen.
“Things are progressing fine, now,” said Cono Trezza, who owns Sea Bright Pizza, 1066 Ocean Ave., with his wife Karen.
Even though the Trezzas lost the contents of their business – ovens, tables chairs and food – they “felt strongly about rebuilding,” Karen Trezza said.
Cono Trezza said he has missed “the clientele I had and will again have” during the more than four months since Sandy. “Everywhere I go I run into my customers and they all say, ‘You have to come back, you have to reopen.’ ”
According to Trezza, his customers hope to have his specialty, “the best pizza in New Jersey,” he said. “Everybody says I make the best.”
The Trezzas have been in business in Sea Bright for eight years, and before that in New York City. They own the building, which thankfully didn’t experience any structural damage with the storm, and have made certain renovations to hopefully prevent another storm from causing as much damage.
Karen Trezza said their architect and engineer advised filling in the building’s crawl space with soil, stone and cement, which they have done.
As the work progresses, they are planning to reopen in the week before the Memorial Day weekend. “We’re looking forward to the warm weather and business reopening,” Karen said.
When Michelle McMullin saw what the storm did to her business, Gracie and the Dudes ice cream shop, “It was shocking,” she said.
The water came in and slammed the machines and other equipment around, as if they weighed next to nothing – “and we’re dealing with equipment that weighs a thousand, 1,500 pounds,” she said.
“It was all piled on top of each other.”
She saw about $150,000 worth of equipment destroyed and about $400,000 in damage to the building and business items, she said.
Michelle and her husband Brian have owned and operated Gracie and the Dudes, 1062 Ocean Ave., since 2009, naming the shop after their four kids. Gracie, the oldest, is now 10 with the three “dudes” ages 8, 5 and 4.
They, like their business neighbors, the Trezzas, knew they would rebuild and reopen.
“That’s where Gracie and the dudes were born,” spending so much of their young lives in the store, McMullin said. “We own the building,” she said. Then paused and said, “We own the mortgage to the building.
“We feel so entrenched in this community, that moving or selling, or building somewhere else was never an option that we wanted to explore,” she said.
The McMullins opened a second location last September in West Long Branch. It escaped the storm relatively unscathed, except for the loss of product due to the power failure and some relatively minor damage to the exterior. They are now planning to reopen the Sea Bright location by early May.
The McMullins are working on flood mitigation for the building, discussing installing flood panels to hopefully prevent another such occurrence. Plans have moved slower than they had anticipated but McMullin conceded, “Building is always slow when you’re waiting for insurance approvals and money from the bank.”
As plans move forward and work continues, she’s keeping her fingers crossed for the coming season. “Let’s hope for an ice cream summer.”