BELMAR, N.J. (AP) — Good weather and greater awareness that the Jersey shore has made huge strides in recovering from Superstorm Sandy helped make the second summer after the storm better than the first, many merchants and elected officials say.
Some business owners report profits up 20 to 30 percent this summer compared with last year's, when the shore was still in the early stages of recovering from the devastating October 2012 storm.
"This summer was great," said Matt Riccelli, who manages Gee Gee's restaurants on the Manasquan beachfront. "We're all sad to see it end."
Riccelli said his business was up 20 percent this summer from last, when it was still rebuilding and the beach was much narrower before an offseason replenishment project. Weekend weather was mostly sunny. But he and many others said the biggest factor was getting past the images of Sandy's destruction.
"Sandy is a memory at this point," Riccelli said. "A lot of the construction is done, and more locals who were displaced last year are back in town this year."
Annie's Ocean Grill has operated from a truck on the Belmar beachfront the past two summers. This year was definitely better, said cook David Gelman.
"People see that the beach is back, the boardwalk is here, and that Sandy is gone," he said. "There's a sense that the shore is getting back to normal."
To be sure, there is still work to do. The whine of power saws and the thwack of hammers still resonate on summer afternoons in places like Manasquan, the Ortley Beach section of Toms River, and Mantoloking, where work continues on homes wrecked by the storm. But even those places have made sure the beach is ready for visitors.
Summer rentals bounced back strongly. Jerry Bennett, a real estate agent with Seashore Agency in Ship Bottom, said his business increased by 30 percent on Long Beach Island.
"If you're driving around LBI, you wouldn't even realize there was a superstorm here less than two years ago," he said. "The island is back to normal now and better than ever, because a lot of places got newly renovated. People have gotten the word that there's not total devastation here."
Dan MacElrevey said rentals at the six motels he manages in the Wildwoods, three beach communities at the southern tip of the state, were up by 8 percent in July and August. At Maui's Dog House, a hot dog restaurant that serves its food in dog bowls, saw its sales increase this season, partly because it was still rebuilding in early summer 2013.
Jenkinson's Boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach also said business was noticeably better this year, although it could not give a percentage increase. Spokeswoman Toby Wolf attributed the improvement to good weather, more available rentals and more out-of-state visitors.
"I've always seen some New England license plates here, but this year there seemed to be an abundance of them in the parking lots and driving around the area," she said.
New Jersey charges people for the privilege of walking onto a beach, and beach badge sales were up in many shore towns this summer.
Sea Bright Mayor Dina Long said her town, which was pummeled by Sandy, had taken in 50 percent more beach revenue as of Aug. 22 compared with all of summer 2013. Belmar had sold 9,000 more beach badges as of Aug. 24 than it did in the same period last summer, and its beach parking revenue nearly tripled this summer. Ocean City was up by $125,000 at the beginning of August.
Tom Rogers said business at his TR's Food Court in Belmar was about the same this summer as last year — despite raising prices by 3 percent. He said an increase in New Jersey's minimum wage held down profits and also customers bought fewer soft drinks, which are a big profit-maker for his business.
And despite the imminent closing of the casinos, Atlantic City has been having a good summer, with restaurants and nightclubs doing brisk business, said Liza Cartmell, president of the Atlantic City Alliance, the casino-funded agency that promotes the city to other parts of the country.
"Contrary as it appears in the face of the closings, Atlantic City is actually experiencing a very strong summer," she said.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC