Long Beach Islanders eager to show off rebuilt businesses

The Sunday scene on the lagoon side of Long Beach Island. "This is critical, that the businesses do well," said Harvey Cedars Mayor Jonathan Oldham.
The Sunday scene on the lagoon side of Long Beach Island. "This is critical, that the businesses do well," said Harvey Cedars Mayor Jonathan Oldham. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 27, 2014

The members of the iconic Beach Haven Marlin & Tuna Club were determined to open their new building before the start of summer, the second since Hurricane Sandy washed out their former home.

They got their certificate of occupancy Friday afternoon, just in time for a planned grand opening the next day, coinciding with an annual striper fishing tournament known as the LBI Cup.

On Sunday morning, the day after 500 people flooded the club's new three-story headquarters, Vice Commodore Tim Irons walked around the bare rooms, proudly showing off the bathroom tiling and the views from the top floor.

"It's completely paid off," he said. "We just don't have any furniture yet."

Across Long Beach Island, an 18-mile long strip of land that took a hard punch from Sandy, these small signs of rebuilding remain. While visitors came back tentatively and in lower numbers last year, many residents and business owners are counting on this year being a return to normal, to the kind of full-fledged summer that feeds the local economy.

"A lot of people put out a lot of money they haven't gotten back yet," said Jonathan Oldham, mayor of Harvey Cedars, on the northern end of the island. "This is critical, that the businesses do well."

Last year, he said, "the unknown" of whether the island would be open kept people away until August, costing businesses weeks vital to a seasonal area.

"Last summer, July was like November," said Margaret Damiani, owner of the Hydrangea House Inn, a bed-and-breakfast in a historic 19th-century house on Centre Street in Beach Haven. "People were still under the misbelief that everything was destroyed."

She said this summer was looking good. The weeks when she rents the entire house were fully booked.

"You see around town how busy it is," she said.

Damiani's husband, Pat, owns Polly's Dock, renting out boats and fishing tackle. Among his losses from the hurricane were six boats. But he managed to open in a "bare bones" fashion last year.

He said many tourists went to less devastated towns to the south last year.

"Now, will they come back?" he asked. "This summer is going to be the big tell-tale."

LBI, though, differs from places such as Ocean City and the Wildwoods. The island has no boardwalk and comparatively few hotels. It's an island of second homes and weekly rentals more than day trips.

For Philadelphians, LBI also is a sort of Jersey Shore Mason-Dixon line, where loyalties are split evenly with New York.

Homes were still under construction or were being elevated on pilings all around LBI. Oldham said that the stock of rentals would be down slightly, but that nearly all the businesses were back.

Justin Auciello, who gained a huge following during the storm with his Facebook-based news operation Jersey Shore Hurricane News, said there was "much uncertainty" last year. But, he said, LBI was in much better shape now than towns to the north, such as Seaside Heights and Ortley Beach.

"I'm not going to say people have moved on from Sandy. They haven't," he said. "There's a greater sense of positivity in the air."

At the Beach Haven Marlin & Tuna Club, last year the members hosted the White Marlin Invitational, their biggest tournament and only money-maker of the year, out of a tent.

"We had to," Irons said. "We needed the money."

The members pieced together what they had in the bank with insurance money, donations, and donated labor to rebuild. They only lost a handful of members despite being out of commission for more than a year and raising their modest dues from $250 to $400 a year.

"We wanted to get open, and have a successful White Marlin tournament, and show the members we weren't dying," Irons said. "The heritage will continue."

He predicted a good summer for Long Beach Island.

"They got this island cleaned up really, really quickly," he said. "The island is going to be in full swing."


tgraham@phillynews.com

215-854-2730

@troyjgraham

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