By Lauren Wanko
The sights and sounds of the summer are back on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights as wide-eyed kids try their luck in the arcade. Hopeful they’ll nab a prize. Twelve-year-old Chelsea Wheeler is back on Casino Pier, her first trip since Sandy.
“It’s like awesome because I’m like it’s still alive! It’s here because this is family here to me and I’m always coming every summer. It’s my life here!” she said.
The rides are in full swing. Eighteen are now open, including two new ones. Another three new rides will open later this season. Casino Pier staffers are gearing up for what’s typically a busy Easter holiday weekend. It’s something they missed last year since the 82-year-old pier didn’t open until the end of July.
“Easter weekend has always been a big deal at Casino Pier. It’s a great start to spring,” said Casino Pier Marketing Manager Maria Mastoris.
“It’s always great to be back especially this time of year. I remember back in the day growing up during the Easter weekend, everyone would get dressed up on Easter Sunday and walk the boardwalk,” said California resident Charles Parlapanides.
As for the famous Jet Star Roller Coaster, which was destroyed by the storm and became a symbol of Sandy’s wrath, Casino Pier officials haven’t set a timetable to replace it, but crews will begin replacing the upper deck of the pier this summer.
In an effort to lure tourists here for the next few days and ultimately the summer, Casino Pier offers half price ticket sales over the holiday weekend. The company expects to hire about 100 more employees this season compared to last year. Revenue then was off about 25 percent from previous years.
“Last year you can’t even compare it to any other season because we didn’t have half our pier like we normally do and half our rides didn’t open until the end of July,” Mastoris said.
“Not coming here last year we missed it. That’s what the Jersey Shore is — coming to the boardwalk, enjoying the food, the rides, the smells, friends,” said Forked River resident Laura Wheeler.
Game stand owners are thrilled to be back on the boardwalk this holiday weekend.
Last Easter, Vinny’s Games was set up in the parking lot.
“We only got three months last year. My season consists of seven months — March through September and weekends in the winter and I need those months to pay my rents. The rents are high, the taxes are high,” said Vinny Scuzzese.
“The importance of being open in Seaside Heights, especially our boardwalk, is our tax rate is basically 75 percent of our rate is the boardwalk, between the beaches, parking meters, revenue from the licenses from our stands,” said Seaside Heights Director of Special Events Michael Grachen.
Back in the arcade, as the carousel whizzes by, we catch one lucky winner. Jersey Shore business owners hope by the end of summer, they’ll all be smiling as much as she is.