Some Shore businesses wobbly as construction trades are inundated with work

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One year after Superstorm Sandy, many homeowners are tallying up what they’ve gained and what they’ve  lost as a result of the storm.

Businesses in the Toms River area are doing the same.

Look down the narrow streets of tiny bungalows in Normandy Beach, and you’ll see a mixed picture. Some homes have been abandoned and sit in total disrepair. Others are abuzz with generators and contractors hammering away as they rebuild this hard-hit area.

For some business owners who’ve invested in the area, the recovery is slow going. And that pace is making them wonder about their prospects.

There was a wait for a table recently at the seemingly thriving Toms River Il Giardinello restaurant owned by Joe Pisacreta and his wife, Colleen.

Seven years ago, the Pisacretas opened a second location, the Il Giardinello Beach Grille in Normandy Beach. The Beach Grille was hit hard during Sandy. From ruined equipment to lost sales, they say it cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Now they aren’t sure they’ll reopen their Normandy Beach restaurant because they said the area’s economy has not recovered.

“If it takes two or three or four years to come back, um, we don’t have that kind of time, you know, as far as financial stability,” said Joe Pisacreta.

Instead, Colleen has opened a consignment shop on the mainland while Joe has invested in a generator for the original Il Giardinello in case another disastrous storm develops.

Business complaints echo homeowners’ gripes

In Sandy’s aftermath, a common complaint among business owners — as well as home owners — has been about obtaining insurance and federal emergency funding to rebuild. That can mean the difference between walking away and reopening.

This was the case for John Spadavecchia and Tom Faragalli, the owners of Johnny Fries just a block off the water in nearby Ortley Beach. Sandy flooded their fledgling business with six feet of water.

“This was our first summer, and we survived and we paid our bills,” said Spadavecchia.

Thanks to insurance and their own cash reserves, they were able to recover. The customers stopping by Johnny Fries now are mainly construction workers doing extensive repairs in the area.

“Hopefully … we can survive with the contractors, and get through the winter, and have another good summer next summer,” Spadavecchia said.

Construction remains the bright spot for the whole Shore economy. Rebuilding businesses, homes, roads, bridges and water systems is providing steady work for people who have had trouble finding employment  since the recession.

Steady work — for some

At an Ortley Beach home, carpenter Bill Lee was busy repairing a deck recently. He said he’s been working as much as 60 hours a week, but it makes him uncomfortable to think he’s doing well because of another’s hardship.

“It’s a hard pill to swallow,” he said. “It’s a bittersweet thing being out here.”

Down the road in Normandy Beach, contractor Jeffrey McGrath shares Lee’s sentiments.

McGrath, who does masonry and carpentry work, said work was spotty — until Sandy roared in.

“First time in a long time I can say and can feel that I have job security in this area, in Jersey, anywhere, for the last, I’d say, six years,” he said.

McGrath points out all the houses on the block where he has been working will need to be elevated under the new federal flood plain guidelines. He sees years of steady work ahead.

“Everyone around here is saying about five years until the area is fully recovered, because every single house that’s here has to get lifted,” McGrath said. “So whatever’s not lifted, will eventually be lifted, and it’s just a matter of time before everything gets done.”

But while workers hammer away, others, including Donald Talley, are still searching for jobs. Outside the Toms River One-Stop Career Center, where 3,500 residents have signed up for services this past year, Talley said he was laid off from a lumberyard after the storm hit.

Forced to move his family from an apartment to a motel, the father of three said he is willing to consider any type of work to keep his family going.

“We lost a lot, but … we keep it moving every day, and try to just stay focused on what’s important, that’s the kids,” he said.

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