Dalrymple Card and Gift Shoppe was born of a famous storm 50 years ago that puts the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy into perspective for co-owner Chuck Dalrymple.
The March 1962 storm and flooding, which for decades was the benchmark for shore weather catastrophes, hit Sea Isle City much harder than Sandy.
The city’s boardwalk was destroyed (to be replaced by the current paved promenade), the houses were flooded with 4 to 5 feet of water, and almost all of the town’s 1,200 residents needed to be evacuated by helicopter when flooding quickly cut off the roads, several articles in The Press of Atlantic City reported.
The family’s original small newsstand and card shop was flooded, prompting his late parents — Charles and Angela Braca Dalrymple — to open the current larger store across the street.
But that was the least of the family’s losses in the ’62 storm.
Chuck Dalrymple said his father went down to the boardwalk, saw it breaking up and saw waves rolling into the family’s movie theater, splitting it in two.
“When he got home, he told us to go up to the bedroom window and look out. We did, and in three minutes the theater collapsed. We actually saw it fall,” Dalrymple said.
Shortly afterward, he said, the family was queued up for the flight to safety.
“I’m on cloud nine because we’re getting to ride in these huge helicopters,” he said. “I step onto the helicopter, and everyone is crying. I’m the only one having a good time, but I was 6.”
Frank McCall, the former county emergency management director now in public works, was awestruck upon his arrival in Sea Isle City at the time.
“One thing that amazed us was the Madelyn Theater. It had been totally washed out to sea. You could see it floating out there about a quarter-mile,” he told a Press reporter.
When Dalrymple Card and Gift Shoppe opened the year after the storm, Dalrymple said, his mother insisted that the new building be elevated three steps — a small rise that made a big difference 50 years later.
“Our damage from Sandy would have been much worse if not for that small change,” he said.
As it was, about 8 inches of water came into the store, ruining inventory on the first shelves and requiring the walls and floors to be opened up and replaced, he said.
Dalrymple praised city workers and police for convenient debris removal and ensuring that only home and business owners had access during the early vulnerable days after the storm. “I had men working very late one night, and I was glad to see the police come by and check on us.”
The shop — which at this time of year sells newspapers, magazines, books and sundries to loyal year-round customers — reopened just before Christmas, missing eight weeks of sales of gifts and Hallmark cards while closed for restoration.
Sandy, in fact, was only the shop’s second days closed in all of its 50 years. For 49 years, it was open 365 days a year — even Christmas Day.
Barbara Dalrymple, wife and co-owner, said the only other closing was six weeks early last year, while the city reconstructed the roads all around it.
Chuck Dalrymple said the store does its biggest volume from mid-July to mid-August, when as many as 18 employees sell beach chairs, tanning lotions, toys and inflatables to summer visitors.
This time of year, the staff is down to family and those who might as well be family.
Chuck’s sister, Angel Dalrymple, of Sea Isle City, does bookkeeping and works in the store. Wife Barbara, who is also principal of the Charles W. Sandman Consolidated School in Lower Township, does some of the ordering.
And a lot is handled by Cathy Kerrigan, of Wildwood, whom Dalrymple calls his “right hand woman.” Kerrigan’s son, Kevin, did a lot of work during the restoration.
Even Dalrymple’s stepmother, Louise Dalrymple, of Sea Isle City, is still working at age 92.
“She comes in every night and helps out. She does all the charges by hand, with a calculator and pencil,” Barbara Dalrymple said.
Contact Kevin Post: