After Hurricane Sandy roared through the Jersey Shore in October, it became much quieter at the Candlelight Inn in North Wildwood. It was the type of silence that no innkeeper wants. That silence continued for months.
"We were here, but the phones weren't ringing. The phones weren't ringing other than people calling to say, 'Are you OK?' " explained Nancy Moncrief, who owns the Candlelight Inn with her husband, Bill.
The dramatic drop in business affected not only the Moncriefs, but other innkeepers along the New Jersey coast. As the first anniversary of the hurricane approaches, nearly 30 inns from Monmouth County to Cape May are preparing to launch a "Back Inn Business" marketing campaign to attract customers, including cutting their room rates in October.
"I think we're trying to recognize that this is a tough year, but the inns are still here and open," Nancy Moncrief said.
So far, 26 members of the Preferred Inns of New Jersey Bed & Breakfast Association have agreed to participate in the campaign. They will cut their rates by 10 percent Sundays through Thursdays this October, excluding Columbus Day weekend.
Innkeepers hope the campaign will show they have recovered from the Oct. 29 hurricane, even though many of them suffered damage and had to rebuild.
"This is a great initiative with a lot of heart," said Esther Cohen, the innkeeper at Cedars & Beeches in Long Branch, Monmouth County, and an association board member.
"New Jersey has been through so much, and the inns have, too. We want people to know we're here, we're undamaged, and we're open," added Nancy Gallimore, another association board member and the innkeeper at the Sand Castle Bed & Breakfast in Barnegat Light, Ocean County.
Some of the innkeepers who were lucky enough to escape unscathed are participating in the "Back Inn Business" campaign in a show of camaraderie with those who did suffer damage, said Maria Coder, a spokeswoman for the association.
"Even though some of the inns weren't affected by Hurricane Sandy physically, they might have been affected financially, because people had the idea the inns were closed and the area was badly damaged," Coder said.
The Candlelight Inn and a smaller guest house the Moncriefs also operate suffered $20,000 to $30,000 in roof damage. Nancy Moncrief recalled how business virtually disappeared after the storm.
"We lost November," she said. "November was terrible, and even February was still bad until people starting getting the word that the area was open for business."
Many other businesses, not just the innkeepers, felt the brunt of the storm, Moncrief said. She wants the benefits of the campaign to spread throughout the Jersey Shore.
"Hopefully, it will drive up weekday business in the entire area," she said. "It's not just about the inns. Our visitors go out to eat, they go out to shop, they go out to a lot of activities."
Normally, business falls off after Labor Day, the traditional end of the peak summer tourist season. Although last year's storm caused an exception, the campaign is supposed to show visitors that October usually is an inviting and relatively tranquil time at the shore.
"October is a beautiful time at the beach," Moncrief said. "This is a way of letting people know that we're open, we're here, and we want to share it with you."
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