Ocean County Businesses Bouncing Back After Hurricane Sandy

By Lauren Wanko
NJ Today

They’re staples of the Jersey Shore — boardwalk rides, game stands and ski ball. And this year, those staples are all back for another season. In Seaside Heights, Lucky Leo’s owner Steven Whalan feels lucky, even though business is down 15 to 20 percent.

“I’d say we’re about twice as good as I would have ever expected it. So, yeah, I’m 15 percent down, but I’m 50 percent ahead, if you look at it that way,” Whalan said.

On the boardwalk, we revisit Frankie’s Amusements. In April, owner Frank Rainey was forced to operate his game stand in the parking lot. He’s grateful to be back on the boards.

“From around July 10 on, we’ve really picked up a lot. We had a decent July 4 and the last two weeks have been much better,” Rainey said.

Still business is slower this season. Boardwalk stores and stands are closing earlier than usual on weeknights and there are plenty of empty spaces in parking lots. Manager Dan Dietrich was forced to lower prices this summer.

“We’re lucky if we fill up this year, where in the past, we filled up and we had signs out saying full,” said Dietrich, parking manager for Hemingway’s Café.

On Casino Pier, game stands opened during Memorial Day weekend. As for the rides, they just began opening in July. Management hoped 18 would be open this season and so far, 14 are ready for vacationers.

As of May 20, Casino Pier’s Breakwater Beach Water Park was down 30 percent, the arcade off by 25 percent, golf down 5 percent and go-karts up 5 percent.

“We know we had to rebuild this summer. It’s not gonna look great with numbers or revenue or anything like that, but at least we can build up. We have something going and we’ll just be fully back next year,” said Casino Pier Marketing Manager Maria Mastoris.

Ocean County Director of Tourism Jeanne DiPaolo says the county’s greatest challenge has been the lack of vacation rentals.

“I guess typically for a lot of the resorts in Ocean County, our vacation housing stock is individually owned rentals and so that left our whole recovery held up because of these issues with renovating your property,” DiPaolo said.

Farther north in Ortley Beach, Starlight Motel owner Joseph Guarino proudly displays a “No Vacancy” sign.

“It’s amazing. We’ve been holding 95 percent every day and filled — no vacancy — on the weekends steadily,” Guarino said.

Guarino is seeing less walk-ins this season. They’ve been replaced with contractors, displaced shore residents and FEMA employees.

“So that has picked up the slack for the people who haven’t taken any day trips,” Guarino said.

On Jenkinson’s Boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach, families crowd kiddie rides and game stands.

“The past two weeks we have seen much more foot traffic up on the boardwalk. There’s no denying though the first few weeks of the summer were off a little bit,” said Pavilion Games & Sweet Shop General Manager Mark Malland.

Still Malland is seeing new visitors this summer.

“It’s definitely been the yin and the yang of the storm. I think you’re getting people who may not have come here before — quote on quote curiosity seekers,” Mallard said.

Those curiosity seekers are drawn to the Jersey 4 Sure Boardwalk Memorabilia shop in Seaside Heights. Business there is booming.

“We’re never dead, even if it’s raining and the stores are empty, we’re still busy,” said employee Jody Neilson.

In the Ocean County shore towns, business owners hope to keep that momentum rolling for the rest of the summer season.