When your business has been around for more than half a century, you may think you’ve seen it all. And then something like Hurricane Sandy happens.
“We had 61 years of foot traffic,” Margate Dairy Bar owner Chris Clayton said of his determination to reopen. “And we didn’t want to lose it.”
As the tourist season nears, several iconic businesses and landmarks along the shore are dealing with different degrees of storm damage. But all agree the storm was the worst their locations have seen in their long histories.
Visitors and residents have been lining up outside the distinctive overhang of the Margate Dairy Bar since 1952. But in the days after Sandy, owner Chris Clayton called the damage close to a total loss, with four feet of water having “just got in here and stirred everything like a blender.”
“I'm still trying to figure out my next move,” an emotional Clayton had said. Little did he know the lengths to which he would go.
“For all of us, it’s been a long, arduous, painful process,” he said. “But every situation is different. The building is 60 years old. ... We did everything we could to save certain things, but the ice cream machines — which cost $20,000 a piece — we lost all of them. And there was no insurance on them. We thought the machines were considered part of the structure, like the ovens and kitchen equipment, but it wasn’t.”
In addition, he said, the force of the flooding shifted the walls themselves and ripped out the concrete slab the building sits on. Another blow was the departure of his tenant, Mango’s restaurant, despite his hopes it would try to stay open.
So Clayton is trying another tack. While he prepares to refurbish the building and turn the former Mango’s into a family restaurant, he took his cues from another Margate business on how to get the Dairy Bar up and running by its usual opening date in early spring.
“I got the idea from Starbucks,” Clayton said, referring to the trailer the company installed in the street outside its Margate location after the storm. “They just kind of did that and asked for permission afterward, but I have a lot of respect for the community and wanted to play by the rules.”
So after getting official permission, a 32-by-9-foot construction trailer was towed to Margate and placed directly in front of the still-closed windows at the Dairy Bar. He said he spent $3,000 to rent and another $3,000 to fix it up.
“I pretty much have the whole Dairy Bar in that trailer,” Clayton said. “The plumbing took a lot of work, and we had to drill holes to bring in the sump pumps.”
And that’s how a trailer designed as an office for work sites ended up dispensing multiple varieties of ice cream.
“We are thrilled,” said Mary Doughty, who brought her grandsons Billy, 4, and Timmy, 6, on a recent weekend. “I live here in Margate and we were evacuated, and when we came back on the island, you could see the damage and you knew how bad it was.”
Another Margate institution, just a few blocks away, also is working to get everything back to the way it was.
Lucy the Elephant, 132 years old this year, had water inside her massive feet. It damaged the wooden floors and air conditioning equipment, Save Lucy Executive Director Rich Helfant said. There were also mold problems underneath its gift shop.
But the biggest damage was the beach grille building, right on the beach behind the elephant.
“Although the storm shutters held and no water got inside the building, the damage to the exterior was significant — railings, roofing, siding and storm shutters were all destroyed,” Helfant said. All wiring and a significant portion of the decking had to be replaced as well.
The plan is to have the beach grille up and running by Memorial Day, Helfant said, and with a new tenant: Lou Ventura, the owner of the neighboring Ventura’s Greenhouse, which also has completed work on a section of its outdoor patio.
“We operated it for the last three years,” Helfant said of the beach grille. “But we’re not in the restaurant business, we’re in the business of running Lucy. So Lou Ventura has put a significant investment into the building.”
In Ocean City, where Johnson’s Appliances & Bedding has been on the same block on Asbury Avenue for 68 years, owner Don Johnson said water came up six inches higher than the benchmark the store still has from the 1962 northeaster. But inside, he said, only about three-quarters of an inch got in.
Of the store’s efforts to block water from entering the store, he said, “We (held off) two feet in the front area, but in the back, we missed it by two inches.”
The Wildwood location was a different matter, Johnson said. That site, itself 60 years old, saw two feet of water inside the building. Even then, it was back in operation after about a week.
“The building’s concrete, the floor’s concrete, and you don’t have to worry about insurance,” Johnson said.
Back in Margate, Clayton doesn’t have that luxury as he plans to turn his building into a dual dairy bar/restaurant. But he already has a theme — Googie architecture inspired by space-age California restaurants of the ‘50s — and a sign out front confidently states it will open in 2014.
“We have a responsibility to the community,” Clayton said. “Not only will we be back — it will be better.”
Contact Steven Lemongello:
Follow Steven Lemongello on Twitter @SteveLemongello