Ocean City is open for business

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Ann Richardson / Michele Gillian gives a business update at the Ocean City Music Pier on Monday, Dec. 17. Ann Richardson / Michele Gillian gives a business update at the Ocean City Music Pier on Monday, Dec. 17.

OCEAN CITY — With devastating pictures of the hurricane-ravaged Jersey Shore still circulating, Ocean City tourism officials invited media representatives from across the Delaware Valley to the famed Ocean City Boardwalk on Monday to showcase that Ocean City is “recovered, restored and ready for your visit.”

America’s Greatest Family Resort is “open for business” said Michele Gillian, executive director of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce.

In two weeks, the city’s premier off-season event, First Night, a non-alcoholic celebration of New Year’s Eve will offer 60 entertainment events spread out over 18 locations. First Day at the Beach on New Year’s Day will be as big as ever, with the First Dip plunge into the ocean and a 5K run. First Night attracts as many as 10,000 revelers and Gillian said despite a late start selling buttons, the chamber expects another sell-out event.

Beyond the New Year, beaches, a thriving boardwalk with amusement rides, miniature golf and lots of popcorn, pizza and ice cream are ready and waiting.

City publicist Mark Soifer said some folks see pictures of north and central New Jersey, where the damage was far more severe and mistakenly figure Ocean City is in the same disrepair.

“There seems to be a perception in people’s mind that everything was devastated,” he said.

That is not true, he said. While the city’s downtown took a beating, he said it’s coming back and a majority of the shops have reopened.

Soifer said Ocean City’s boardwalk was in good shape.

“There was very little damage to the boardwalk,” he said.

Seven weeks to the day after Superstorm Sandy slammed the coast, Gillian said things were on the upswing.
“We are fortunate to have a community that cares about each other,” she said.

Through OCNJ CARE, a local non-profit organization, volunteers mounted a massive humanitarian effort to clean and restore the downtown and assist individual homeowners.

A beach replenishment program is scheduled to begin in February for the city’s north end, and city officials hope to also include the south end, which sustained serious erosion, she said.

“The majority of the boardwalk stores did not sustain any major damage,” Gillian said.

The downtown, she acknowledged, “took on significant water,” but thanks to volunteers, who helped business owners renovate, the rebuilding was relatively easy.

“We wanted to make sure the business community got back on its feet,” she said. “I can’t say enough about the community we live in. They really helped the business community stand up and be strong.”

Gillian said local churches and civic organizations partnered with the city and the chamber and with local leaders such as Drew Fasy and Pastor Brian Roberts of St. Peter’s United Methodist Church to make sure that every segment of the community was restored.

She presented a 5-page list of businesses that were up and running. Several businesses, she said, operate year-round on the boardwalk, including Jilly’s Arcade, Shriver’s, Johnson’s Popcorn and the Fudge Kitchen.

The business community, she said, has been “thinking outside the box” to assist local businesses.

About 10 percent of the city’s businesses remain closed at this point, she said. While many were feeling down and out as they gained access to their businesses after the storm, she said the overwhelming assistance they received from the community has changed their minds. Some may still be closed, but that’s because they are in the process of rebuilding, bigger and better. Very few, she said, packed it in.

“They took a breath, and after a week or so, they reconsidered,” she said of those businesses that are reopening despite devastating damage.

The damage shook every business owner on Asbury Avenue up quite a bit, she said. The five year economic slump has not helped, but she said locals are a strong, resilient group and the 120 unique shops and restaurants will be back.

“We’re one of the bigger downtowns, six long blocks,” she said.

City community services director Jim Mallon said the downtown will be much improved when all of the stores are open this spring.

“They’re coming back stronger,” he said.

Skip Tolomeo, president of the Retail Merchants organization, said his children’s shop, Sea Oats, will be open after Christmas and will, for the first time in 30 years, be all new.

“We’re really excited,” he said. “We decided to take the opportunity to renovate the store.”

The city’s annual Trail of Two Cities attracted over 500 harriers a week after the storm. Many events were rescheduled instead of being canceled.

Mallon said utility companies pitched in to restore services to the city.

“The utility companies really did a nice job,” he said. “They recognized the importance of getting Ocean City back up and running.”

Gillian said a lot of folks deserve credit.  

“I can’t say enough about all of the second homeowners who reached out,” Gillian said. “They have invested emotionally and financially, we are so grateful.”

The city’s family image, she said, means the world to visitors and those who have made an investment.

“People will come out and support a community that supports them,” she said. 

Tolomeo said Thanksgiving weekend was a busy one for merchants. By the time spring rolls around people are going to be flocking to the shore, he said.

When asked if prospective rental tenants have backed out, Gillian said the rental business is “a little quiet,” but the holiday season generally is and everyone expects that come January people will be booking vacations.

“We expect to have a great season,” she said. “Book early, we think it’s going to be a great summer.”

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