Ocean City's Chatterbox looking for a buyer

Ocean City legal secretaries (from left) Christina Fonte, Jen Ford, and Marla Tyce having lunch at the Chatterbox in 2012. Restaurant owner Marie Repici says rebuilding from Hurricane Sandy took a heavy toll.
Ocean City legal secretaries (from left) Christina Fonte, Jen Ford, and Marla Tyce having lunch at the Chatterbox in 2012. Restaurant owner Marie Repici says rebuilding from Hurricane Sandy took a heavy toll.
Posted: January 03, 2014

OCEAN CITY, N.J. Just as Marie Repici and her husband, Thomas, happened upon the then-for-sale Chatterbox almost 42 years ago, when they came to town to buy a pizza-dough machine and ended up buying a restaurant instead, perhaps a new owner will again stumble on the place.

Marie Repici, 82, who has been through floods, deaths of close family members, and the day-to-day stresses of running an eatery, hasn't formally listed the property for sale after recently deciding that it's time to retire.

But even without putting a big real estate placard on the place - besides the lighted marquee, the only other sign is one written in marker noting it is closed and will reopen in March - for a couple of weeks Repici has had as many as three people a day coming by to look into buying the pink-facade restaurant.

She won't publicly disclose a precise asking price, but notes that it falls between $1 million and $2 million. The property is assessed at slightly under $1 million, according to local tax records. If it's not sold by February, she plans to sell it at auction.

"I think people just know the Chatterbox, and when they hear it is for sale, they are very curious about it," said Repici, who purchased the property in 1972 with her husband after he noticed a for-sale sign on the restaurant. They never did buy the dough machine.

The turreted two-story building at Ninth Street and Central Avenue was designed by Philadelphia architect Vivian Smith in the 1920s, in a similar Spanish Revival style to some of his other Ocean City buildings, such as the Music Pier, the old Central Avenue School, which now houses the police department, and several houses.

Jean Campbell, the original owner of the Chatterbox, moved the enterprise, which she had begun across the street seven years earlier, into the current building in 1944. Campbell operated the restaurant until 1968, when she sold it to Bob Becote, who painted the stucco green, much to the ire of locals, who favored the pink facade.

One of the first things the Repicis did when they purchased it from Becote four years later was to restore the pink color, Repici said.

"I've been coming here since I was a little kid," said Annette Jacoby, 38, of Glenside, Montgomery County, who peered into the windows of the restaurant recently when she arrived in town to visit with family for the holidays and found the Chatterbox closed until spring. "It's always one of my stops when I get to Ocean City, so I can't wait for it to reopen."

Repici acknowledged that decades ago, she was against buying the place with her husband, thinking that the restaurant "was way too big for us to run." But over the years, the couple and their children settled into a routine in operating the restaurant year-round.

While her husband, and then her son, ran the back of the house, Repici would be out front, always with a smile and welcoming greeting as patrons entered the family-friendly restaurant. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were served from a vast menu of home-style favorites, from eggs, bacon, and French toast to BLTs and meat loaf.

The family briefly sold the business - not the building - to two couples who operated it for a short time before the Repicis took back the operation. When her husband died in 1986, Repici said, she depended on son Tom and his wife, Aimee, to help with the operation.

When Tom Jr. passed away in 2009 at age 53, after a long battle with cancer, Repici looked to her daughter-in-law to help her carry on. Over the years, Aimee and Tom's four sons have also spent summers working in the restaurant.

But Hurricane Sandy may have dealt the final blow for Repici. After spending the months following the storm overseeing $400,000 in repairs after a foot and a half of water flooded the dining room and kitchen, the exhausted family was finally able to reopen the restaurant in time for Memorial Day.

"The storm was really hard on us. . . . An experience like that just takes its toll," said Repici, who lived in a home on the bay for many years but now lives in an apartment above the restaurant.

After a busy summer season, the family decided to break with tradition and close till spring, placing the sign on the front window that the restaurant would reopen in March. But in the ensuing months, Repici came to the conclusion that she was simply finished.

"I've been here, well, more than half my life. I just feel it's time to take some time for myself, to rest, to enjoy my life," said Repici, who will split her year among homes here, in Florida, and Belize.

While she says she will be sad to see the place go - there are "so many memories for me here" - she is looking forward to the next chapter in her life.

"It's been a big ride, a good ride, and we drove it a long way," Repici said. "I just hope that whoever comes in and takes over has as much love for it as we do."


 


jurgo@philly.com

609-652-8382 @JacquelineUrgo

www.inquirer.com/downashore

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