VENTNOR - John and Karen Santoro have been married for 46 years, and in business together for nearly as long.

Not just one business, but several over the years, including a hamburger and hot dog stand.

The couple own Ventnor Heights Auto & Marine and Ship Shop bait and tackle on Dorset Avenue in Ventnor, which specializes in boat repairs.

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Karen Santoro said she hears the question often - how do you work together and be married together for so long?

Part of it is separation of duties, they said.

John runs the mechanic's side of the business, and Karen the paperwork, billing, banking and the bait and tackle store.

But also, "Understanding each other and having patience and personality with each other," John said.

"She does her stuff, I do my stuff, and we meet in the middle for whatever needs to be done," he said.

The Santoros opened an auto repair facility in 1971.

John Santoro, 67, had been working as a mechanic previously. The couple met in Absecon, when Karen's car broke down and John fixed it.

While the auto repair shop was running, they also opened a hamburger and hot dog stand in 1975, Dorset Burger, making homemade burgers and shakes.

"It was something we learned," John said. "You start with a few customers and then more and more and more."

Meanwhile, the mechanic business shifted from autos to boats in the mid-1980s, when John decided he wanted to do something different.

"After 20 years fixing cars, I figured it was time for a change," he said.

"It's the same mechanical principle, but marine engines are a lot different than car engines. So me and my men all went to school," he said.

Both businesses operated until the early 1990s, when a major flood put 27 inches of salt water into the eatery, ruining the cooking and refrigeration equipment.

The marine business continued, but there was still the empty space where Dorset Burger was.

So again, John and Karen Santoro reinvented the business, turning the old hamburger shop into a bait and tackle store.

This was a new industry for them - neither had much experience fishing.

At first they took advice from friends, salesmen and customers on what fishing supplies to stock.

"Whatever the customer says, you go along with it if you can afford it," John said.

Hurricane Sandy added another wrinkle.

The bait shop flooded with 40 inches of water, and a blue piece of tape on the glass front door indicates how high it reached.

The business replaced the walls and took steps to flood-proof the building before reopening this year.

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