Eponymous reality show lives on at the Jersey Shore

Danny Merk said the Shore Store benefited immediately from MTV's "Total Request Live" even before "Jersey Shore." "This store's always had a really weird aura of luck around it," he said.
Danny Merk said the Shore Store benefited immediately from MTV's "Total Request Live" even before "Jersey Shore." "This store's always had a really weird aura of luck around it," he said. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 25, 2014

SEASIDE HEIGHTS - The only cameras left in the famed Shore Store here are small and silver - standard security measures in most retail stores.

It wasn't long ago that crews producing a show for one of the most popular networks on television filled the T-shirt shop and introduced the world to Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, and the rest of their gel-happy friends.

Two years after MTV's Jersey Shore cast bid good-bye after taking this town by liquor-infused storm - and one season removed from a summer defined by recovery from Hurricane Sandy - things are starting to look more like "normal," says store owner Danny Merk, 34.

If normalcy means offering ticketed tours of his former home, that is.

While the reality show ended in 2012, the eight-member cast and the attention it attracted have left a residual presence. Inside Merk's store - where the self-proclaimed "guidos" and "guidettes" worked (a verb sometimes used loosely) when they were not partying - shirts display familiar phrases from the MTV hit (such as Ronnie Ortiz-Magro's "Come at me bro" and Deena Cortese's "I'm a blast in a glass").

Guests know Merk by name; many ask for photos with the boss and landlord, often depicted as stern.

For $10, visitors can take a tour of the attached house on Ocean Terrace, where the cast shot four of its six seasons. Patrons entering the property are greeted by the quirky but familiar duck telephone as they start a walk through reality TV history.

"Turn left. This is the 'Smush Room,' " tour guide Carlye Burchell, 22, told two teenage girls Wednesday as they landed on the second floor. Then she pointed outside: "That's where Ron threw all of Sam's stuff onto the porch."

The two quiet teens posed for photos in the kitchen and later outside against a wall with an ocean backdrop.

"It's cool actually being in the house," said Bella Mangeri, 15, of New York City. "It looks a lot different."

The quick tours are offered when the house is not being rented for $1,200 per night (when the offer began, the price was more than $2,000). Rates for parties vary.

Michael Loundy, of Seaside Realty, called the current price tag a "sweet spot," a good deal for the beachfront property, which sleeps 12 people in six bedrooms, with three bathrooms.

"It's still a very active house," Loundy said. "It's got a lot of staying power. We have a lot of people in Seaside Heights who ask where the MTV house is."

The house has been used for Sweet 16 parties, Loundy said, and is popular among visitors in their thirties, who were at the upper end of the show's core demographic spectrum.

Apart from the property, Loundy, also director of community improvement for Seaside Heights, said the show's incorporation of signs for Garden State Parkway Exit 82 helped put the town on the map.

"It really helped, in the Northeast region at least, for people to actually locate us," he said.

"No one . . . could have dreamed that it would turn out to be what it was. We had a tiger by the tail."

Loundy helped link the production company with Merk's house, where the store owner lived for a decade with his brother, before the show began in 2009.

Merk opened the store, on the boardwalk's north end, in 1998. The Seaside Heights native said he immediately benefited from MTV, when its popular music video-centric show Total Request Live shot near his shop, attracting both celebrities and foot traffic to the area.

"This store's always had a really weird aura of luck around it," he said.

Although Sandy brought disaster to Merk's store - the floor, plumbing, and electricity all had to be replaced - the business still thrived, he said. A neighboring arcade never reopened.

"You just had to get back in the motion of things," Merk said, adding that supporters felt the need to come out. "This season has been better because there's more people."

The store and the house are open year round. After Labor Day, Merk spends his time in Florida, where he helps his family run nearly 20 temporary Halloween stores.

At the Seaside shop, the soft beats of techno music can be heard on the boardwalk. Customers no longer have to sign waivers, consenting to being filmed in order to enter the store - a stipulation when the show was being shot that Merk said turned some shoppers away before the show's first season aired. After the debut, that requirement was no deterrent to the massive crowds looking to see the reality stars.

Yet just as pop culture goes, Merk's merchandise changes over the seasons. Shirts associated with the show are displayed alongside more contemporary ones, one featuring the likeness of Miley Cyrus that reads "Twerk it."

"Everything dies down with time," Merk said. "Everybody's seen 'Come at me bro' for six years now. (But) people still buy it."

And it isn't a day at work for Merk without getting an earful about the gang: "It's every day, about 100 times a day, that I hear about Snooki."

Perhaps it's the new norm.

"I don't think it's going to fizzle out," Merk said. "I'm hoping people will always want to come by and pick up a T-shirt."




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