They came out by the thousands, rakes and gloves and bags in hand, eager to clean their slice of the Shore. Some 6,500 volunteers descended on 65 beach sites this past April to help Clean Ocean Action, a 28-year-old volunteer regional environmental group, scour the beaches and get them ready for the summer of 2013. This year’s effort was the first since Hurricane Sandy devastated miles of New Jersey’s famous shoreline, and there was a bigger force of volunteers than in previous years.
There’s a cautious optimism in the towns that dot the state’s barrier islands. Many of Cape May’s famous Victorian houses sport fresh paint, even though the postcard-perfect town avoided any serious damage to its roster of popular B & Bs and rental homes. “There was just minimal damage,” says Gail Wilsey, who owns Wilsey Realty in Cape May, “and I think the rental season will be just like any other summer. We were lucky.”
The Wildwoods, too, escaped the brunt of the hurricane, and its many ’50s-era “Doo-Wop motels” show little sign of damage from the superstorm. The beach resort that boasts the largest and broadest beaches in the state — and no beach tag fees — with over 8,000 hotel rooms and 3,000 condo residences, has its restaurants ready for all comers, with cuisine styles ranging from family buffets (Red Oak and Rusty Rudder) to Caribbean (Coconut Cove, Jamaica Me Hungry and Capt’n Jack’s Island Grill) to sophisticated vegetarian (Epicure). The towns’ elaborate website even offers Bobby Rydell signing “Wildwood Days” while you search its extensive listings (www.wildwoodsnj.com ).
The big marketing splash this summer is being made by Wildwood’s neighbor to the north. Sea Isle City’s radio, TV and print ads in Philadelphia and New York have been proclaiming “We’re Ready” since February, including a dramatically placed billboard facing commuters exiting the Lincoln Tunnel into New Jersey.
“It was mostly to dispel concerns that we had suffered from Sandy,” says Katherine Custer, director of community services for Sea Isle City. “In fact, we weathered Sandy quite well. People would call our offices, and we kept answering them with ‘we’re ready!’ until it became our new signature slogan. And it’s already paid dividends: new retailers have opened here, as well as several new eateries. And Funland, our amusement park, has expanded, with more attractions then ever before.” (www.sea-isle-city.nj.us )
Avalon and Stone Harbor, too, both weathered Sandy well, in large part due to their extensive dune systems. But their beaches were replenished with twice as much sand as had been previously ordered by the Army Corps of Engineers, according to Avalon Mayor Martin Pagliughi. “We had no break in our dunes,” said Pagliughi, “but we still lost a lot of sand from Sandy. We weren’t that vulnerable to begin with, but now the beaches will be great again.”
Avalon’s most noteworthy BYOB gets some new blood in the kitchen this season when Palmer Marinelli mans the stove at The Diving Horse (2109 Dune Dr., 609-368-5000) “Palmer comes to us from our sister restaurant in Philly, Pub & Kitchen,” says general manager Whitney Standish, “and we’re really looking forward to his fresh ideas and new dishes for our 2013 season.
“We could be extremely busy this summer,” adds Standish, “with guests who are used to vacationing at other shore points. I’m glad we have a good amount of staff returning.”
Ocean City and its famous boardwalk is virtually intact and the Johnson’s Popcorn, all hot and caramel-covered, is still being popped and stirred nonstop (Boardwalk at 6th, 8th and 14th Sts). O.C.’s beaches were also substantially replenished in the off-season, and all of the town’s wacky weekend promotions, including its famous “Do-Dah Parade” and “Basset Hound Olympics” took place as scheduled in April. The city’s other big crowd pleasers include the Annual Antique Car Show (June 22) and “Night in Venice” boat parade (July 20). (www.ocnj.us )
The stately homes of Margate, Ventnor and Longport show little effect from the hurricane, much to the delight of longtime residents and businesses. Ventnor, which boasts the Jersey Shore’s only Glatt kosher dining spot, Jerusalem Glatt Kosher Middle Eastern (6410 Ventnor Ave., 609-822-2266), shows little sign of the brutal storm, despite some flooding during the hurricane. The storm actually made landfall on the exact spot where the iconic Lucy The Elephant has stood for over 120 years. The Shore’s most photographed destination survived more or less intact. So did Jerry Blavat’s nightclub, Memories, but the legendary DJ decided to renovate the place anyway. That means a 41st summer of line dancing and cha-chas for “yon teens” (9518 Amherst Ave., 609-823-2196).
No one can forget the images of Atlantic City streets under four feet of water during the hurricane. Today, it’s pretty much back to normal at Vegas-By-The-Sea, though the gambling crowds are still not what they used to be. Entertainment and restaurants are the bigger draws these days. The newest casino, Revel, has shuffled its restaurant lineup significantly for summer. Philly’s own Iron Chef, Jose Garces, will open a noodle bar adjacent to his Amada restaurant there, to serve dim sum and ramen. He’s also moving his renamed Distrito Taco Truck to the casino’s beach on weekends. There will be a new 24-hour boîte called Relish (no relation to the Philly restaurant) with a lower price point than Revel’s other restaurants (500 Boardwalk, 609-572-6488).
It is on Long Beach Island where you see much of the wrath wrought by Sandy. Contractor trucks are still as plentiful as the seagulls, and blue tarps may still cover a few rooftops through the summer months.
“Holgate on the southern end and Loveladies on the northern end took the worst hits,” says Matt Kulinski, a realtor with G. Anderson Real Estate on LBI. “But when you drive the rest of island, nothing has changed at all, which is good. The higher elevations at Barnegat Light on the northern tip saw almost no damage, and our high dunes really held back most of the impact that other towns north of us really felt.
“But all of the shops and all of the restaurants — and all of the miniature golf courses [LBI boasts a half-dozen] are all open,” Kulinski adds. “The signature restaurants — Plantation, YellowFin, Raimondo’s, Stephano’s, and yes, Chicken and the Egg — are all open. And Island Beach State Park opened on time in May for surf fishing and looks to be back in peak condition.”
Another frequent sighting on Long Beach Island: signs and banners defiantly proclaiming “LBI Coming Back Strong!” — a quote that could well be the official motto of the 2013 season.
Richard Pawlak is a frequent contributor to the Special Sections of the Jewish Exponent. This article was originally printed in This Summer, a Jewish Exponent magazine