Ocean City, N.J. businesses regroup, reopen, reach out

For businesses in Ocean City and other Jersey Shore towns that were spared the worst of Superstorm Sandy, the challenge leading into the summer season has been more than renovating or rebuilding.

Business owners have been struggling to get the word out on how “normal” this summer’s season will be.

Parts of the New Jersey coast, like Mantoloking, are not ready to have tourists return to town, but that’s not the case in Ocean City. Businesses, including the Brown Family Restaurant, can’t wait for the tourists to arrive.

The restaurant, which has been serving up breakfast on the Ocean City boardwalk since 1976, somehow escaped the worst of Sandy.

“We actually did really well. We had a lot of sand in the parking lot, and all around the building, but our actual building was dry,” said owner Jim Brown. “I didn’t get a drop of water inside the building, only God knows how. I was shocked. We did board up and I’m sure that helped. I could have opened up that very next weekend.”

And, so far this year, business has been good, according to Brown. But he said there are still people who conflate the devastation in North Jersey and the South Jersey beaches.

“I do get occasional phone calls from people from out of state asking how we fared, how’s the beaches down here in Ocean City,” he said. “I think a lot of people just think from Cape May up to Long Beach Island was completely wiped out, and that’s really not the case. We’re alive and well here in Ocean City, open for business.”

Sandy brought more business to some

For some, business has improved since the storm. Theresa Sheehan runs an upholstery shop on Asbury Avenue, Ocean City’s main business district. Between residents whose furniture was destroyed by the storm and people who need new cushions for their outdoor furniture, business is booming, Sheehan said.

“People need their cushions done,” she said. “They already have a lot of cost, I think, from repairing their houses and they don’t have the money to go out and buy new furniture. So they are just having it redone.”

Sheehan says customers have been understanding that the abundance of work means not everyone will have their cushions ready for this holiday weekend.

Mike Annarelli runs a bike shop that his family has had since 1935. He says with a down economy, the past few years have been difficult and he thinks people have been putting off buying new bicycles.

“We’ve had a lot more business repair-wise. New sales haven’t really translated, people had to take care of their things — first their homes and their garages,” he said. “In the spring here, Memorial Day weekend, we’ll see how things translate into sales because people could be getting rid of flood bikes because they are not worth repairing.”

Annarelli says people should check the spokes and the wheels of their bikes carefully before hopping on for that first ride of the summer.

Nightmare of Sandy helped family realize dream

For some people, Sandy has created an opportunity. Bob Idell opened up a cafe/deli in a space where the previous owner gave up after the storm.

Idell said his family has always wanted to have a little business.

“It’s been a dream of my wife and son to open a business on Asbury Avenue, a breakfast and lunch place,” he said. “My daughter has monkey bread up on the boardwalk, and it’s something they’ve always wanted to do — have a friendly, happy breakfast and lunch all-day establishment.”

Valerie Rajca opened Ocean City Emporium to showcase local arts and Christmas items just before the storm hit. She was completely wiped out, but found a better space when others moved out post-Sandy.

“It’s a 12-month business and it’s slow, slow, slow,” she said. “I think people don’t understand, we’re here, we’re well, we’re fine, we’re great,” she said. “We’re here, we’re open, come visit.”.

Johnis Seabold, the co-owner of a jewelry store on Asbury Avenue that also was washed out by the storm, said the shop has been cleaned up and fixed up. Now they just need customers.

“We need the word to get out that we are in pretty good shape here and that they shouldn’t be afraid to come to Ocean City,” she said. “We know it’s weather-driven, the economy down here too, but if people really want to help us out, come down and enjoy Ocean City and see what we have to offer.”

At the unofficial start of the summer season, one question is how many people will answer all those invitations. Another is whether people who usually vacation in North Jersey will venture south for the summer.

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