Hurricane Sandy wasn’t able to hurt their business but the lack of crowds may.
Atlantic City’s rolling chair companies reported relatively little damage to their equipment from the storm, but they say the resulting thin crowds on the Boardwalk are hurting them more.
“It’s going to be awhile for people to come back here,” said John Taimanglo, the owner of Ocean Rolling Chairs. “It does not look healthy.”
Sandy flooded Taimanglo’s office and the space under the Boardwalk where he keeps his 150 rolling chairs, requiring him to pump out water for nearly 30 hours, he said.
“We got massacred,” Taimanglo said.
But after pumping out the floodwater, power-washing the chairs and replacing some rusted ball bearings, his business is back in operation, he said. The problem is the crowds aren’t back, and might not be until other parts of the Northeast hardest hit by Sandy — including North Jersey and New York where there are long lines for gasoline — are restored.
“Everyone got hit around us,” he said.
Rolling chair companies make money by leasing the chairs to the men and women who push them — considered contractors who in turn charge the patrons who ride the chairs. But in the aftermath of Sandy, Atlantic City is much slower than before the storm hit, several companies reported.
Taimanglo said during a typical winter weekday he would lease out about 15 chairs — for a minimum daily rate of $10. On Monday, he leased fewer than half of that number.
Royal Rolling Chairs, which is licensed to lease 103 chairs and charges a minimum daily rate of $5, had only about three go out Monday morning. Interest has been limited even when the company offered to lease the chairs for free on the first Saturday and Sunday the casinos were opened after Sandy, said Tim Boland, whose father owns the company.
Even with the free offer, only 10 chairs went out Saturday and four were leased Sunday, he said.
“There’s nothing out there,” Boland said.
The company suffered little Sandy damage because its office is situated on New York Avenue away from the Boardwalk, and as a precaution, workers moved the chairs to the second level, he said.
A third outfit — Atlantic City Boardwalk Rolling Chair LLC — also was able to protect its 50 chairs by moving them to the second level of nearby Renaissance Plaza and its offices by installing flood barriers and pumps powered by emergency generators, owner Ted Garry said.
“I didn’t get any water inside my shop,” he said. “There was a few feet of water outside the door.”
The week before the storm, the company leased out an average of 30 chairs per day. This week, the average has been only about 10, Garry said.
Antonio Lopez, 49, formerly of Vineland, who leases a chair from the company for $10 every day, said despite the lack of business, he still goes out on the Boardwalk, as he has for nearly every day for the past couple of years.
“I’m a slave to the Boardwalk,“ Lopez said.
He needs the money to make rent — $155 a week — as well as to cover repairs to a window that was blown out from the hurricane and food that was spoiled by the power outage.
“The money’s not coming back quick enough,” Lopez said. “The Boardwalk’s a desert.”
Lopez, who said he pushed Oprah Winfrey on his rolling chair last year, considers himself a veteran of the Boardwalk, learning from those who have come before him. He situates himself near Showboat Casino Hotel, ready to help tourists by offering them advice, drawing on his 32 years of experience living in the resort and a backpack of menus from every restaurant on the Boardwalk.
“The key is to smile,” he said. “Use hand signals — guide them with your hand.”
Lopez said he also makes an effort to dress as nice as he can, keep his chair — No. 49 — as clean as he can and be as fit as he can.
“I can walk up and down this Boardwalk all day,” Lopez said. “I don’t have a half gram of fat on my body.”
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