Businesses on Long Beach Island coming back to life
More than 70 businesses have reopened their doors, and behind each of those doors is a story about when Hurricane Sandy forced itself inside, taking with it the merchandise, equipment and, in many cases, dreams.
Marko Grasso’s dream was to run his businesses on Long Beach Island, two surf shops that locally built a cultlike following that had customers plastering Wave Hog Surf Shop stickers on their vehicles.
On Wednesday, Grasso said the Ship Bottom location recently reopened after being cleaned up from 20 inches of water, but the Beach Haven location will not reopen because of extreme storm damage.
Grasso was a fixture in the Ship Bottom summer landscape. He could be found sitting in the sun in a beach chair in the gravel outside his shop, waving as customers honked when they drove by. But Sandy not only destroyed much of his inventory and buildings, the storm has crippled him financially, he said.
“There’s no longer flip-flops, shorts and sunglasses. It’s back to khakis, a button-down and dress shoes,” Grasso said.
After the storm, he took his job back at a local flooring company that he left eight years ago to open Wave Hog Surf Shop. But he has signed over his part of the business to his partners, he said.
“Sandy hit me hard financially with the stores, I have a baby now, the house a mortgage. I couldn’t weather it after the storm. It was giving up your dream. But you get older, you get responsibilities and you want to provide, so what do you do? You have to put food on the table,” he said.
Lori Pepenella, destination marketing director for the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce, said the Long Beach Island region is very fortunate that businesses are reopened compared to other shore areas that were damaged to a more severe extent like Seaside Heights and parts of Monmouth County.
“Our goal is to keep business in New Jersey, and right now the perception is that the entire shore was damaged beyond repair and that’s not the case. We’re all suffering from lack of business because of the news reports that have been out there. This happens time and time again with national media focus looking to sell a shock value,” Pepenella said.
Right now, the chamber is being mentored by the New Orleans Convention and Visitor’s Bureau while local businesses work to reopen by Memorial Day weekend.
The chamber is also using social media to inform the public of businesses as they reopen, along with a weekly radio show on WBNJ 91.9 FM that airs Mondays at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. or online at www.wbnj.org.
Jane DiPietro and her husband, Steve, are working feverishly to reopen three of their restaurants scattered throughout Long Beach Township. The DiPietros also are putting their home back together, which was damaged by Sandy, as well.
The couple’s fourth restaurant, California Grill in the Beach Haven Terrace section of Long Beach Township, reopened last month after the storm.
“Reopening California Grill gave us some normalcy and hope. It was great to see everyone coming again. We were working with an old-school operation though. We weren’t even able to take credit cards,” Jane DiPietro said.
The remaining three restaurants are closed during the winter months and had actually just closed for the season shortly before the storm hit. All four businesses were damaged during the storm.
And work just started at the couple’s restaurant Stefano’s, which has finally dried out since the storm in the North Beach Haven section of the township. The restaurant was flooded with about 5 feet of water, she said.
“Stefano’s is down to the studs. We have to start from scratch. We lost a lot of equipment. We’ll work on our Bluewater Cafe next and then the Dockside Diner,” she said.
She said she is hoping to have the family’s home put back together by the Christmas holiday as the island continues to return to some semblance of a normal existence.
“I just heard on the radio today that it’s been 40 days since the storm. I can’t believe it,” she said Tuesday.
For Bill Hutson, owner of Lorry’s Island End Motel in the Holgate section of Long Beach Township, it seems like yesterday he watched the Atlantic Ocean rush toward his business.
Although Hutson’s motel has not reopened, he also works as the vice president of the Long Beach Island Business Alliance and said he is impressed at the return of the businesses so soon after the storm.
“They went in there and worked like cats and dogs, day and night for days. This is their livelihood. People have to get their doors open again,” Hutson said.
Hutson still has no power at his motel, and although the second floor didn’t get damaged, 3 feet of water flooded the motel’s first floor.
“I watched the water roll down the road with lumber and debris, and then I had to be evacuated because I had been relocating hotel occupants, some of them who are homeless with children to other housing,” he said.
For a list of businesses that have reopened on LBI, visit the chamber website at
Contact Donna Weaver:
Follow Donna Weaver on Twitter @DonnaKWeaver