ATLANTIC CITY - From his Boardwalk T-shirt and gift shop, Todd Lovitz has seen Atlantic City change over the decades - from its pre-casino days, its growth as a gambling hub, and its post-recession struggles.
Adapting to a changing market is part of any long-running business - in his case, consistently changing merchandise to find what the customer wants before he or she walks through the door.
But countering misperceptions that Hurricane Sandy destroyed Atlantic City's Boardwalk has proven especially difficult the past eight months and continues to be so, said Lovitz, owner of Pier 21.
Since the storm, sales have been down 40 percent, the biggest drop he has seen at his store, Lovitz said.
Lovitz's father and uncle opened a gift store at another Boardwalk location around 1950, as ABC Toys & Gift Shop, he said.
Lovitz, 62, of Ventnor, said he still frequently hears visitors tell him they thought the Atlantic City Boardwalk was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.
"I had one lady with her kids from Minnesota, and I explained it all to her. She said, 'Oh I just told my daughter this is all new, the boardwalk,'" he said.
In May, a poll conducted by Russell Research for the Atlantic City Alliance - a marketing coalition funded by casinos - indicated the percentage of people who believed the Atlantic City Boardwalk was destroyed by Sandy dropped from 41 percent to 15 percent nationally.
Lovitz thinks the figure is higher.
He said he still hears from plenty of people - particularly among those outside of the Philadelphia and New York markets - who believe otherwise. Lovitz said he thinks city and state tourism promoters could have done more to squelch these misconceptions earlier.
"They didn't do much to fix that immediately. … They all dropped the ball, from top to bottom," he said.
Being a long-running business on the Atlantic City Boardwalk has not been easy the past few years as tourism dropped and the casino industry struggled. And Hurricane Sandy added another wrinkle.
Pier 21 saw some exterior damage - its outdoor sign that anchored in four places blew away in the storm, although its "American-Owned" Styrofoam sign underneath it stayed in place.
This gift shop has evolved through the years. Lovitz's father and uncle - Alfred and Milton - opened their shop nearly 63 years ago, well before casinos were part of Atlantic City's draw, he said.
"They were from Brooklyn. They were traveling salesmen, and they saw an opportunity here. They actually used to commute, believe it or not," he said.
The merchandise changed since then.
Once-popular Atlantic City souvenirs faded and were gradually replaced by a wide assortment of T-shirts, including themes such as "Blues Brothers" and "Rocky" movies, black history, zombies, as well as other apparel with adult language and themes.
"You learn by trial and error. Try to carry what the customers are looking for, but you have to have it before they come down," he said.
The business is 3,600 square feet, with about 1,400 square feet of selling space, giving it room to display thousands of options.
Despite the area's struggles and growing casino competition from other states, Lovitz said, Atlantic City offers uniqueness unparalleled in other markets.
"They have to promote the ocean, the beach and the Boardwalk. No other casino resort in the world has what's out here," he said.
Contact Brian Ianieri:
Location: 1629 Boardwalk, Atlantic City
Owner: Todd Lovitz, 62, Ventnor
Employees: Three, seasonally
Revenue: Not disclosed