OCEAN CITY — City merchants will do their best this Black Friday to bring back a sense of normalcy to a downtown still drying out from Hurricane Sandy’s flooding.
Some businesses here are closed today and will remain so at least until early next year, according to their owners’ hand-written notes posted in windows.
This holiday season contains an incongruous mix of misery and hope in Ocean City. Christmas wreaths and bright red bows share space on Asbury Avenue with refuse containers and piles of flood-damaged flooring and store inventory.
But merchants said every day another neighboring restaurant, dress shop or gift store reopens its doors, giving the business community an abiding sense that the worst is over.
“What damage people are facing is very intimidating now. But the people here will do what they need to do to reopen,” said Jeff Ravasio, 32, of Somers Point, who works at Grassroots Music Store. “No doubt.”
The ground floor of his shop, which sells guitars and other musical instruments, was built about a foot higher than others on the avenue and as a result was spared from significant flood damage, he said. He is confident that by spring next year, visitors will hardly notice any difference on the island.
“It’s going to happen quickly — more quickly than people think,” he said.
His store has been deluged with calls from sympathetic out-of-state customers offering their business, he said.
About 60 percent of the island’s year-round businesses have reopened so far, said Michele Gillian, director of the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s only been three weeks. It’s phenomenal what has been done already,” she said. “It really shows the spirit of Ocean City businesses to pick themselves back up.”
Business groups such as the chamber and Main Street Ocean City mobilized after the storm to help the battered downtown. The chamber formed a nonprofit group, OCNJ Cleanup and Recovery Effort, initially to provide food, clothes and lodging to storm victims and now to help businesses get back on their feet.
Merchants said Main Street Ocean City organized the Red Raiders football team to help stores clean out storm debris.
“No restaurants were open — not even Wawa,” said Deborah Guerriero, owner of the women’s clothing and accessory store Ta-Dah. “But neighbors here kept bringing us hot home-cooked food.”
Her five stores lost about one-third of their inventory, she estimated. But her suppliers were very sympathetic and helped restock once they cleaned up and installed new carpeting.
Merchants in Ocean City grumbled last year about the scant holiday displays on the avenue. When the downtown’s overhead electric lines were put underground, the city inadvertently lost its easy ability to hang garlands and other decorations that make the downtown festive.
“It’s important to look festive, especially this year,” Guerriero said.
Gillian said the city dedicated $130,000, including a grant, to decorate Asbury Avenue and Ninth Street, the city’s busiest gateway to visitors.
“It’s long overdue. It’s a good investment. With the new bridge, the council decided it was time to step it up,” she said. “It couldn’t happen at a better time to have these festive decorations.”
Merchants said the holiday decorations are welcome.
“I was happy to see them. I noticed it right away,” said Johnis Seybold, owner of the Asbury Avenue jewelry store A Lucky Find.
“Ninth Street should look really cheerful for the holiday,” she said.
Her store was built with flood-resistant materials such as green-board walls. The flooding inside was bad, she said, but not high enough to reach the vulnerable electrical system.
Her friends helped muck out the sand and silt that covered the floor and sanitize the tile and walls.
“A lot of us still have our heads bent down taking care of what needs to get done,” she said. “It just doesn’t feel like Christmas yet.”
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