The Jersey shore is a place where time slows down. Ask longtime shore goers about their favorite memories, and nine times out of ten, people talk about family, friends and food. That’s all you really need down here. And yet, business owners in Beach Haven say fewer visitors are showing up this year.
At a pedestrian mall, vendors are selling sunglasses, plastic jewelry, and other knickknacks. It’s early on a Friday afternoon, so many weekend warriors haven’t arrived yet. Still, Turk Cakar confirms business is slow.
“The Memorial [Day] weekend was not as busy as previous years, so hopefully it will get better by the 4th of July,” said Cakar. He says business is off 30 percent from a year ago.
At a nearby sunglasses stand, Nesli Adar agrees, still hoping for a rebound. “We’ll see by [the end of] July what’s going to happen, but compared to last year’s, I can say it’s about 30 percent less.”
Adar says she thinks Superstorm Sandy is partly to blame.
“Some houses are not fixed yet. I think that’s one reason. And the other reason, unfortunately, the weather wasn’t that good this year,” said Adar.
Many of the people who are showing up are surprised by how much things are back to normal, however every other block or so there’s a house that’s still being repaired, or in many cases, raised up in order to avoid storm surges and flooding.
Doug Stevens’ house in Holgate took on water during the storm and will be raised a full story.
“We could have left it on the ground,” said Stevens. “Eventually the insurance is going to go sky high, and we figure, let’s do it now. As long as we’re in this state now, this condition, let’s do it.”
Stevens got help with raising the home in the form of an Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) grant. It’s federal money that helps pay for changes demanded by flood or other insurance — like raising your house in a flood zone. He says that process went smoothly for him. But he didn’t get money from his insurance company until April, so construction on his house continues into the summer.
Things are similarly slow at Fred’s Beach Haven Diner. It’s just after 1:00 p.m., and there’s only one other customer. Thats bad news for the three or four waitresses, a cashier, and Fred himself. Tall and thin with a kind face and slightly goofy smile, Schwing’s owned this place for 15 years.
“Honestly got to say it’s a bit sluggish so far,” said Schwing. “I mean we had a great Memorial Day weekend, but since then, things haven’t been quite what we normally have.”
Schwing lives on the island year round. His own home is on pilings, so the only damage he sustained was four feet of water in his garage — what he calls a “good cleanout.”
While he and his diner fared okay during the storm, he’s still waiting for his customers to return.
“Businesswise, 98 percent of the businesses are back,” he said. “Hopefully [tourists will] realize that LBI is back up and running, the beaches are fine, and hotels are open and restaurants and shirt shacks, and we’re all set.”