‘Tell people, we’re open,” says Ronald Marr at the Long Beach Island Museum, the Victorian-era building run by the Long Beach Island Historic Society.
Marr is talking about both the LBI Museum and the post-Hurricane Sandy New Jersey shore in general. “You see those pictures on TV and people still thinks it looks bad. Businesses are open.”
It is a recurring story this season. People — whose lives are connected to tourism and recreation — weather a storm and then find themselves left high and dry, thanks to a public misconception that there is ongoing devastation and misery.
The shore town culture and entertainment venues are especially vulnerable. But after struggling with the recession and then getting slammed by Sandy, the shows are going on.
“Our museum was high enough not to be flooded, but our roof was damaged. The basement had flooding, and electricity was damaged. We’re spending money we didn’t have to repair it, but we’re still opening,” says Marr.
Marr, a retired steel furnace engineer who lives year-round in Beach Haven Gardens, says that despite the museum’s problems it is bent on keeping its annual schedule. Reopened on Memorial Day, the museum hosts visitors on weekends through Saturday, June 29. Then it is open every day through the season, traditionally ending on Labor Day.
As befits some associated with a historical society, Marr counts off a few historic facts. “This storm is the worst storm in the recent period; the last was in 1962. The water along the ocean did not come up as high as in 1962, and neither storm reached the second floor of my house. But there was more flooding on the bay side of the island.” He adds that during the storm he and his wife went to Maryland to stay with their daughter.
Moving on to recent history and the pictures of devastation, he says, “There were some spectacular piles of debris in December and January, but it is cleaned up, and the dunes are okay. If you ride up and down the street you would not be able to tell there was a hurricane.”
Additional good news, he says, is that “about 90 percent of the restaurants on the island have reopened, and so have 75 percent of the other stores. But some of the smaller specialty stores have not because of money issues,” related to insurance and aid, he says.
On the less positive side, Marr says that the museum, in addition to the financial hit, has a staffing issue. “A lot of our volunteers are not back on the island yet because their houses are under repair.”
However, he says, visitors will find things a bit easier. “Basically the island is open, there will probably be a few less rentals, because of the repair. The motels are open, and the houses on the ocean are open for rentals. Fences are back on the beach, and we’ve built artificial dunes to protect the houses if there’s a nor’easter. So we’re ready to roll.”
Some of the rolling includes the museum’s exhibitions on the island’s history, featuring displays about its past piers and boardwalks, the era when the island protected a major port, and the history of its grand hotels. Beginning on Monday, July 1, at 7:30 p.m., and continuing each Monday night, the museum will offer free talks touching on such subjects as shipwrecks, the storm destruction of Tucker’s Island, ghosts of Long Beach Island, and, new this year, the story of Hurricane Sandy.
Long Beach Island Museum, 129 Engleside Avenue, Beach Haven. Currently open weekends, then, starting June 29, daily 10 to 4 p.m., Wednesdays evenings 7 to 9 p.m. $3 (ages 12 and up). 609-452-0700 or www.lbimuseum.com.
Surflight Theater executive director Ken Myers agrees that the lingering memories of images of devastation are confusing potential visitors. “They’re skittish and uninformed. I just had a call from one of my regular people asking if the island is open yet,” he says.
Myers says that the Beach Haven-based theater company is one of the island’s top attractions and a good barometer of other business. Right now, he’s seeing smaller numbers in the theater and on the island. “We are having a reality check. The island needs to be bracing for the reality that we’ll be 30 percent down from last year.”
Yet he is quick to add, “I have a feeling that the summer is going to pick up, and we’ll be fine. But that depends on the populations on the island.” That means visitors staying more than just the day.
The producer, who took helm of the theater operations at the end of 2012, says he wished he could replace the pictures of Sandy-related destruction with those of happy people sitting on the beach or at restaurants and hotels. “People need to see that we are open for business.”
He says, “Yes, it’s real that there are places that are empty. I can show you the houses that won’t open this summer. That’s real. But the idea that people are afraid to come down is unrealistic.”
Talking about how flooding was the major problem, Myers says 41 inches of water flooded the house that he uses, adding “I can tell you that the majority of my belongings float.”
Myers left during the storm with most residents during the mandatory evacuation and stayed at his apartment on Riverside Drive in Manhattan. He returned as soon as he could to address the situation with the theater, the most Sandy-damaged nonprofit professional theater in the state.
“We lost 3,000 costumes. The business offices, including group sales and public relations, had two feet of water. In the theater, up to row H was under water. We lost 18 computers and with it lost data, some of it being dried out and recaptured. We’d just finished a refurbishment. Now we had to tear those repairs out, ripping out the dry wall again. The lights were saved except for ground circuitry,” he said in a January U.S. 1 article on post-Sandy theaters.
Because of a number of factors — business support, emergency grants, and a good number of volunteers — the theater, he says, was up and running in February and is now operating at 98 percent of its capability. “We’re in pretty good shape and artistically we have had some of the strongest shows in memory. But people are not here.”
Surflight is courting audiences with its upcoming offerings, the Jazz Age-style musical “The Boy Friend,” opening this Wednesday, May 29, and running to Sunday, June 16, and the bio-musical on the life of George M. Cohen, “George M!,” opening, Wednesday, June 19, and continuing to Sunday, July 7. For more info, visit www.surflight.org or call 609-492-9477.
A Reason to Laugh
In Point Pleasant, about 50 miles up the coast, Dino Ibelli at Uncle Vinnie’s Comedy Club has gotten through the storm but is also fighting the perception problem. “I think that everyone thinks the shore is closed,” he says. “I think it’s going to take a long time of training people to know the shore is open.”
Ibelli — originally from Belleville, NJ, and now in Toms River — has run the club for nine years. He lost power for seven days after the storm and reopened fast on November 6 with a comedy show that, he says, brought a small crowd and gave them a break from what they’d just been through. For the past seven months, he’s been waiting for regulars to return.
“Just this past Friday, I got a call asking me if we’re going to be back open, and I said, We’ve been open since November!”
Located just four blocks from the beach at Arnold Avenue, Ibelli feels that he is working against an economic downturn similar to what downtown Manhattan businesses experienced after the attack on the World Trade Center. “We’re still bringing in the big acts, and it’s business as usual for us. We just need people to know that the beach is open and ready to go.”
He adds: “All the business in downtown are open; they have been open since November. I’m in the downtown business area, and the restaurant and the antique shops have been open. The boardwalk and Jenkinson’s Pier just opened up a month ago. All the hotels have vacancies.”
Ibelli, who says he watched the storm and waited for word if his club still existed, says that the storm, the slow recovery, and the waiting “have been rough. It’s been very rough.”
To lure audiences back, Ibelli is forging ahead with a full series. Opening tonight and running through Friday, May 31, at 9 p.m., is Jersey raised and “Killers of Comedy” regular Chris Johnston; set for Saturday, June 1, are Emmy Award winning comedy writer (and Rutgers graduate) Judy Gold, at 8:30 p.m. and Chris Johnston, at 10:45 p.m.; and on Tuesday, June 4, wrestler turned comedian Ryan Maher hosts an open mic night.
Uncle Vinnie’s Comedy Club, 520 Arnold Avenue, Point Pleasant Beach. 877-862-5384 or www.unclevinniescomedyclub.com.
The Art of Recovery
‘Asbury Park didn’t get hit as bad as other places, but it got the attention because it is was already run down,” says John Viggiano, the Asbury Park-based operator of a photo business, a photo gallery, and the Collective Art Tank located at Cookman Avenue in the Art Block of Asbury Park, 12 miles north of Point Pleasant.
A year-round Asbury Park resident for seven years, the Toms River native has been in business for four and is a board member of ARTSCAP, a group that “promotes the arts as a positive force of growth in Asbury Park.” He was also one of those who had heard the cry of wolf too many times and refused to take it seriously. “I stayed in my apartment. In hindsight I shouldn’t have done so. I thought, ‘I’m freaking insane for staying.’ It was a tough one,” he says.
While the damage to his downstairs studio was minimal (four inches of water), business as usual halted and has been slow in returning. “It was quieter downtown (right after the storm), spending went down, and there was not a big number of people on the streets. People were probably clearing trees out of their own yard. They were not creating art or going to my gallery.”
While there is a sense of recovery, people have not been coming out in the droves as they normally do. That again has to do with the lingering images of devastation. “There’s a development vibe that was already in progress, and (the town) kept it up after the storm. There are some buildings that look like they’re damaged, but they’re actually new. But the boardwalk connecting Asbury Park to Ocean Grove is still out. That may be a bit blighted and deter some people.”
Yet, he says, the Asbury Park boardwalk is ready to go, and restaurants and cultural and entertainment venues are hoping people will hear the word “open.” “We are a beach town; when it gets nice, it gets busy. Most of the merchants are building up for a good year. Asbury Park is ramping up to take as many guests as it can.”
Viggiano is doing his part and is busy preparing for this weekend’s third annual Artist Outreach Weekend at the Collective Art Tank. The photographer coordinator says that the event is sponsored by the Winsor & Newton and Liquitex paint companies and involves their professional demonstration artists. “It’s part of a national event, and we are bringing in artists from around the country and Canada for a weekend of demos and all hands on demonstration, like a street fair.”
On Friday, May 31, the artists will host a day-long technique training workshop, followed on Saturday, June 1, by a day of demos and a group exhibit to showcase the work of all of the artists in the outreach program. To register for workshops or to learn more visit www.CollectiveArtTank.com.
Business As Usual
Back on Long Beach Island, Kristy Redford, executive director of the Long Beach Island Foundation is moving into summer and getting ready to host the Lighthouse Film Festival, launch summer youth programs, and continue art classes that continue the organization’s mission throughout the year.
“Everyone on the Jersey Shore has to counter those images of destruction and show that we are open,” says the Surf City resident.
“(The shore) is definitely a changed area, everything from the landscape to the businesses. Everyone has been changed and affected by the storm. But the nature of what the Jersey shore is about has not changed. When some people think of summer they think of the Jersey shore. It’s going to take a few weekends, but by the time they get here those images of devastation will be replaced by remembering what they love.”
LBI Film Festival. Saturday, June 7 through 9. Long Beach Island Foundation: 609-494-1241 or lbifoundation.org.