At their little art gallery near the entrance to Atlantic City's Gardner's Basin, Donna Elias and Les Kammerman get lots of questions and comments about another tenant in the bayside village.
"All day long, cars pull up here and think they're going to eat at Scales," Kammerman said Sunday, pointing over at the spot where Scales Grill and Deck Bar used to stand - until it was torn down about three weeks ago because of damage the historic watering hole suffered in Hurricane Sandy. "Then they get here and say, 'Oh my God - where is it?'"
Scales was known for more than 20 years as the Flying Cloud, one of the anchors at Gardner's Basin - home of the Atlantic City Aquarium and a few other tourist attractions, plus a collection of small specialty shops.
Peter McDonald, a former Scales manager, now does the same job at Gardner's Basin's Back Bay Ale House - owned by the same people who owned Scales. He said the plan is to put up a temporary deck bar for this summer, with a food truck, a mobile bar and tents.
"Very casual," said McDonald, who also hears lots of Scales questions at Back Bay, which is across a gravel-covered lot from the Scales site. Back Bay's collection of outdoor tables has stayed busy since the weather started warming up, and some customers don't seem to notice at first the empty spot that used to be covered with eaters and drinkers.
"Sometimes they'll sit here for 15 minutes, then look over and say, 'Oh my God - that restaurant is gone,'" McDonald said .
The hurricane in October forced a fair number of changes at Gardner's Basin. Elias, an artist who has developed a following nationally and beyond, especially for her paintings of lighthouses, had to move out of the two small shops she had last year after they were flooded. She lost a lot of her stock - but lost much more at her former studio and warehouse, just across the bay from Gardner's Basin on Carson Avenue. Her losses there included more than 200 original paintings, work she had done over decades.
Kammerman, her husband and business partner, said they had to move out of that warehouse building entirely. They now have a small office in Brigantine - along with a bigger gallery shop in Gardner's Basin than they used to have. They reopened Memorial Day weekend for the first time after the storm, and business was up about 30 percent over last year, Kammerman said.
Rita Cassidy, who owns the Little Dollhouse by the Sea, was the first to reopen a Gardner's Basin cottage shop this year, her daughter said Sunday. Robin Cassidy said her mom got the doll and accessories shop back in business in time for Mother's Day - after she had to throw out everything that was left in the store during the hurricane.
"The water was at least 2 feet deep. ... We were afraid of mold, so everything is new," said Robin, who, along with her mom, evacuated their Ventnor home during the storm. "And when we were allowed back on the island, we came here first instead of going home."
Roy Kramer, the Gardner's Basin dockmaster, said water from Sandy's flooding went over the seawall - and probably came within 18 inches or so of ripping a lot of the docks out with it. But the docks survived, as did all the boats that were left in the basin, mostly by dedicated striped-bass fishermen getting ready for a fall season that mostly got wiped out by the storm.
He said Scales' absence has been felt at the marina.
"A lot of people like to have a cocktail and a sandwich and look at their boats," Kramer said, but he added that Gardner's Basin drew a crowd Saturday with a "huge concert," the first in a series of shows scheduled for the village this summer.
Helena Sauer, of Beads & Things, a handcrafted jewelry shop, came back last weekend for her third season in Gardner's Basin.
"Business is off with the restaurant gone," she said, but she added that she's optimistic that's about to change. "This is a great place. We love it here. And we hope there will be something there soon."
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