Bob Heide, owner of A Touch of Fashion on the Promenade at the Spinnaker in Sea Isle City, said the electrical systems have been fixed. Sea Isle City's largest commercial business district faced a crisis after it realized that damage from Hurricane Sandy compromised the electric-distribution system at the Spinnaker Condo Corp. The damage threatened to cause the electrical system to fail during peak summer demand, when the Promenade stores were busiest.

Dale Gerhard

SEA ISLE CITY — The city’s largest commercial business district breathed a collective sigh of relief after the Spinnaker Condo Corp. suffered minor garage flooding from Hurricane Sandy.

A closer inspection after the Oct. 29 storm revealed extensive electrical damage at the 192-condo complex known for its enormous sailboat logo.

Manager Dennis Cahill, of Sea Isle City, wrote condo association members in January informing them that if they did not raise the estimated $1.7 million for emergency fixes, the complex’s electrical-distribution system was likely to fail at the peak of the tourism season, when the complex and its many restaurants, gift shops and retail stores are at their busiest.

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The Spinnaker is home to Sea Isle City’s largest commercial business district, with four blocks of stores and restaurants lining the Promenade. A major outage in July or August would be disastrous, Cahill said.

“It could have been (a disaster). That’s why we were so proactive,” he said.

New Jersey sustained $1.9 billion in business losses from Hurricane Sandy, according to the storm action plan New Jersey filed for federal assistance.

Nearly 39,000 businesses in New Jersey filed damage claims, including 622 in Cape May County. Another 13,805 filed business-interruption claims after they had to close their doors for days, weeks or months after the storm.

Contractors provided quotes for the work suggesting it could take as long as 13 weeks to replace the system in an emergency. If that emergency happened in July, it would wipe out the entire season for the complex’s businesses and owners, many of whom rely on weekly summer sublets.

A summertime outage would have jeopardized DeNunzio’s Brick Oven Pizza and Grille, one of the Spinnaker’s restaurants.

“You could lose all your inventory,” owner Mike DeNunzio, of Sea Isle, said. “We have thousands of dollars in food in our kitchen every day.”

The complex provided portable generators so businesses could stay open while repairs were made during five days in the spring. As part of the improvements, the condo complex elevated its electrical system to protect it in the event of another major flood.

Cahill said most association members realized the gravity of the situation.

“More than 90 percent of them came up with money in 2 weeks. We have a very loyal and dedicated ownership,” he said.

Ultimately, the association expects to get reimbursed for the damage through federal flood insurance program, he said.

The Spinnaker leases its ground-floor commercial space to help its association members pay for maintenance and condo services. There are almost two dozen businesses, including beach and jewelry stores, gift shops, arcade, ice-cream stores and restaurants.

The Spinnaker is an attractive location for business owners, because of the small city of residents living above the storefronts, Cahill said.

“If you had the equivalent of 20 houses on a block, that’s like 10 city blocks above the stores. In many ways, it’s an ideal place to rent as a store, because you have so many families there,” he said.

Bob Heide, of Woodbury, owns the beach and T-shirt store A Touch of Fashion. He said he counts many of the condo owners and weekly renters at the Spinnaker as his customers. But most of his trade comes from tourists who are drawn to Sea Isle City’s most popular downtown beaches.

Heide said the Spinnaker took other precautions to safeguard the future of its commercial district, primarily by replacing the business facades with hurricane-rated windows that kept all the water out despite the lashing the stores took from the October storm.

“They were just finishing up the south end building blocks when the hurricane struck,” he said. “I was happy. They handled it great.”

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More than 30 years’ experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines in Illinois, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey and 1985 winner of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association’s John Murphy Award for copy editing.

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