OCEAN CITY — Ninety percent of Ocean City’s businesses have been restored since Hurricane Sandy caused citywide flooding seven weeks ago, officials said at a press conference Monday.
Ocean City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Michele Gillian said the city is one of several along the southern New Jersey shoreline that is trying to spread the word that they are ready for visitors and customers to return.
“We have survived difficult times and I think we have come out really well during those difficult times,” Gillian said on the second floor of the Music Pier. “This last hurdle, the hurricane, is really making the downtown community even closer and more resilient to come back and be bigger and better than ever.”
Ocean City has one of the largest small business districts in the county, and it has traditionally relied on extending its summer season through a variety of events, the Christmas shopping season being a key time of year.
This Christmas season had been projected to be better than previous years nationwide because of a steadily improving economy, but the storm has hurt the Northeast. Even areas that were not hit hard might be seeing fewer customers because those customers could be paying for damage to their homes elsewhere.
Gillian estimated that only 10 percent of businesses remain closed due to storm damage in Ocean City. Some store owners have taken the opportunity to gut and remodel their shops and will not reopen until the spring, she said.
“Several of them are looking at this like an opportunity,” said Community Services Director Jim Mallon, saying, “‘I’m going to be closed for a little bit, but I’m going to redo the inside of my store and make it better than ever.’“
There were some initial fears that the storm could have been the tipping point for some business owners who were already plotting retirement, but Gillian said she knows of few, if any, shops that are now closed for good.
“I think people after the hurricane took a breath and might have considered that, and then after a week or so they decided that they really enjoy being in business,” she said. “... I think they were worn out. The economy has not been good for five years, and then with a hurricane like this, it made everybody shaky on Asbury Avenue, I’ll be very truthful.”
Public Relations Director Mark Soifer handed out a list of businesses the city knows have reopened as of Monday and it included about 130 different businesses throughout the island. He could only think of about 10 that have yet to reopen but would otherwise be operating at this time of year.
“Actually, our business downtown, Asbury (Avenue), made a pretty quick recovery,” he said.
The city has already held Christmas holiday events that have attracted impressive turnouts, and they are looking forward to First Night, which includes a variety of family-oriented events that span New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Gillian said Monday that ticket sales are currently down compared to previous years, and that is one of the reasons they are trying to inform out-of-towners that the city’s promotions are proceeding as originally planned.
At some events the city has been handing out buttons with an image of a lifeguard boat filled with presents and the wording, “Recovered, Restored, Ready for your visit.”
Officials said that message has been slowly spreading, especially since many of the people who have helped the city recover have been from Pennsylvania, Maryland and northern New Jersey.
“It was a tremendous effort from the tri-state area,” Gillian said, “and I think that image of America’s Greatest Family Resort is rebounding, when we’re a clean, safe community for them to come back to and they want that image to stay that way.”
“They want it to be safe when they come here, they want it to be open, and they certainly, certainly have invested financially and emotionally in Ocean City,” she said.
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