WILDWOOD - This has been a busy off-season for the Sciarra family, owners of Kona Sports, the Dogtooth Bar & Grill and Kona Bike Shop in Wildwood.
Kona owners Mike and Dee Sciarra, of Wildwood, remodeled their Kona Bike Shop at Rio Grande and Arctic avenues. And their son, Brendan Sciarra, owner of the Dogtooth, bought the former Mr. D's Pizzeria Steaks & Subs and reopened it in April with a new gourmet menu as Poppi's Brick Oven Pizza & Kitchen.
The family's businesses occupy about two city blocks of Rio Grande Avenue, the main entrance to town. It's a neighborhood that has seen a lot of change in the past year with the opening of a rival pizza chain and a cellular-phone store, among others.
"We're trying to make this a good restaurant and shopping area," Mike Sciarra said.
Location has always been key to Kona Sports' success on New Jersey and Rio Grande avenues, Sciarra said. Kona has been a large, iconic store in Wildwood for wetsuits, surfing and beachwear, shoes, sandals and sunglasses.
The family now has a strong presence on both sides of Rio Grande Avenue with future plans for business growth in this busy corridor. They bought a defunct Harley Davidson dealership and Blockbuster Video store on the avenue. After renovations, they leased the former video store as a law office.
Greater Wildwood Chamber of Commerce Director Tracy DuFault said the Sciarra family had a strong influence on this neighborhood even before it expanded its business interests.
"When you have an anchor store like Kona, it's a destination. People know it as a place to go - not just the locals, but visitors, too," she said. "They do a wonderful job of marketing and branding it."
Sciarra, a lifelong surfer, opened the surf shop Kona Sports in 1980. He started surfing the island's beaches in 1964 when the sport was dominated by longboards.
"It wasn't so popular then. We had trouble finding guys to go out in the surf," he said.
He adopted shortboards when they became popular in the 1970s and still surfs the island today, he said.
Kona Sports specializes in outdoor or surfing brands such as Quiksilver, North Face and Timberland. It also offered a selection of bicycles, but its reputation was for surf gear and beach fashions, he said.
The new store, Kona Bike Shop, has more room for everything.
"You couldn't test-ride bicycles around the old store. This location is much safer," he said.
The new shop is in a former Sherwin Williams paint store on Rio Grande and Arctic avenues, about a block from Kona Sports.
Sciarra said it was his son Brendan's idea to buy the paint store to start the outlet shop and expand their business presence on Rio Grande Avenue.
The store has room for a repair shop and a large retail space for bicycles and beach chairs, blankets and umbrellas. A stand-alone area is dedicated to Kona Sports outlet merchandise, most of it sharply discounted.
The business is very family-oriented. Son Chris Sciarra oversees the online stores and handles a lot of the marketing and business organization. The family's new Italian restaurant is named for Mike Sciarra's late father, David "Poppi" Sciarra.
"Without my wife, it wouldn't have worked. She's the bookkeeper. She has a very good head for business," he said.
The store has a repair shop in the back where mechanic Anthony Vasquez, of Middle Township, works. The shop sees a lot of flat tires, sometimes from rims that get bent in transit while stowed on the back of vacationers' cars, he said.
The store sits in the Urban Enterprise Zone, which offers a reduced 3.5 percent sales tax. No surprise, the family is bullish on the island's economic future.
Sciarra said the success of Kona Sports gave his family lots of options when it came to expanding anywhere in Cape May County or South Jersey. But the family decided to keep its roots firmly in the Wildwoods.
"We're 100 percent behind Wildwood," he said.
Contact Michael Miller:
Kona Bike Shop
Location: Rio Grande and Arctic avenues, Wildwood
Owners: Mike and Dee Sciarra, of Wildwood
Employees: 2 to 8 seasonally