MANASQUAN, N.J. (AP) — No, it wasn't a great summer to do business at the Jersey shore.
But considering the damage Superstorm Sandy did to the region last fall and the Herculean effort to get large swaths of the coast ready for tourists and residents by Memorial Day, many say they are grateful they had any kind of summer season at all this year.
"What hurt us was there are a lot of residents who are still displaced by the storm — people that I see all the time, whose children I've watched grow up, who I've seen maybe once or twice all summer," said Matthew Riccelli, general manager of Gee Gee's Pizza, which has been a fixture on the Manasquan beach walk for three decades.
The business and an adjacent arcade were wrecked by the storm, which filled the 8-foot-high basement with 6 feet of sand, shattered doors and windows, and flooded interiors. Riccelli said business was down by 30 percent this summer because of the lingering effects of the storm on tourism but also by an exceptionally rainy first half of the season. A carwash his friend owns also is down about 30 percent this summer, he added.
On the Belmar boardwalk, the Exit 98 Boutique reopened in a steel shipping container for this summer. Foot traffic was about the same as last year, but profits were down, said longtime employee Kathy Ferrara.
"Every last thing had to be replaced, from the first piece of clothing to the last paper clip, every hanger, every rack — Wite-Out! Stupid things like Wite-Out we had to replace," she said.
Gov. Chris Christie, who has based much of his re-election campaign on the state's recovery from the storm, said no one expected a normal summer this year. He spent the first week in August at the shore with his family, sitting on the beach, playing miniature golf, strolling boardwalks and dining out every night.
"We knew that this summer was not going to be like the summer of 2012; I said that right from the beginning," he said. "There's no doubt that business was going to be down all over the Jersey shore because a lot of people, having seen the extraordinary devastation, didn't believe we'd be able to be up and running in time for summer. They turned out to be wrong, and I think we'll get them back next year. But it's a lot better than people in November and December thought it was going to be."
One of them was Richard Garcia. The Monroe, N.Y., man brought his family to Manasquan last week and was surprised at the changes.
"The (dunes) are gone, and there's all these houses going up on pilings," he said. "It looks like the Outer Banks in North Carolina. But we knew it wasn't destroyed."
Mike Clarkin, of Freehold, was pleased with what he saw on the Manasquan beachfront.
"I think they did a wonderful job here," he said. "I miss the sand dunes and there's a lot of construction work going on, but the beach is open and it looks good."
Beach home rentals also slowed this summer. The market on Long Beach island was off by about 25 percent, said Maggie O'Neill, a real estate agent in Ship Bottom. But that figure doesn't distress her.
"If you asked us nine months ago whether we were even going to have a season this year, we would have been hard-pressed to give you an answer," she said.
O'Neill said only about 5 percent of the rental stock on Long Beach Island was unavailable because of lingering storm damage.
"People who rent with us from Staten Island or Connecticut, their primary homes were damaged," she said. "They're working on fixing up their primary homes, and they're not taking vacations this year. Also, many people make their reservations in January and February, and that was a time of great uncertainty. We didn't know what the Jersey shore and the beaches were going to look like come summer. Some people went elsewhere this year."
The southern half of the Jersey shore fared much better in the storm than did Ocean and Monmouth counties and, as a result, saw little disruption of its normal summer tourism rhythms.
Ann Delaney, a real estate agent in Avalon and Stone harbor, said the Cape May County market was about the same this summer. Many property owners had hoped that tourists who normally vacation in northern shore areas hit hard by the storm would flock to southern New Jersey, but that didn't seem to happen on any large scale, she said.
She said all the prime summer weeks were booked, but other times renters were able to negotiate slightly better deals.
"It wasn't a banner year, but it certainly wasn't terrible, either," Delaney said.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC