CAPE MAY _The phone rang Friday afternoon as Alison Bjork decorated the White Dove Cottage here on Hughes Street for the Christmas season, normally a pretty lucrative time for the city's bed & breakfast industry before a lull in January and February.
The call was like a lot of others Bjork has fielded at her B&B since super-storm Sandy raked the New Jersey coast, while pretty much missing America's oldest seashore resort.
"That was a guest coming the first week in December. They wanted to know if everything is all right," explained Bjork.
It is here in Cape May and throughout most of Cape May County. That's why the city's chamber of commerce and Cape May County tourism officials are mounting a campaign whose unofficial theme is: We're okay and we're open for business.
Bjork was in California several days after the storm and followed media accounts that suggested the state's entire coast was destroyed.
"People in California thought the whole Atlantic City boardwalk washed away. The media is scaring people away," said Bjork.
Cape May County Tourism Director Diane Wieland heard the same thing as she vacationed in Florida. She even contacted CNN because they kept running a picture of a destroyed roller coaster in the ocean off Seaside Heights that painted a picture that the whole shore looked like that. Wieland sent CNN photos of the beachfront here.
"We don't want the Jersey shore to be defined by that roller coaster in the ocean. We're okay and we're open for business," said Wieland.
The campaign will include a full-page advertisement in the Philadelphia Inquirer that will run on Thanksgiving promoting Cape May County resorts from Cape May to Ocean City. Wieland said ads are also going to travel magazines and 120 media outlets in Quebec and Ontario have been contacted. Canada, Wieland noted, also heard the Cape was destroyed. Social media will also be used to spread the word.
"We don't want them to go to Ocean City, Maryland. They might like it. You never know," Wieland joked.
It is no joke what happened to resorts to the north and Wieland doesn't want those towns to take county's tourism campaign the wrong way. She noted last year Hurricane Irene destroyed the county's late summer tourism business but northern resorts benefited with a higher number of visits.
"We're trying to be sensitive to north Jersey," Wieland said.
One goal is to promote areas that rely on Christmas season tourism, such as Asbury Avenue in Ocean City, the Stone Harbor shopping district, businesses in the Wildwoods, and the Washington Street Mall here in Cape May.
"Shops on the Washington Street Mall depend on that four-week season from Thanksgiving to Christmas," said John Cooke, who directs the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May.
Dawn DeMayo, a trustee on the city's Business Improvement District, said the fourth quarter can make or break a season. She said shops, restaurants, and hotels will be open but locals will not provide enough business. The city needs travelers.
"Governor (Chris) Christie keeps saying 'the Jersey shore, the Jersey shore.' It's not really the Jersey shore. We may not have gotten hit by the storm but it could be an economic disaster if they don't come," said DeMayo.
Philadelphia was spared from Sandy so that is one market being courted. There is concern fewer northern New Jersey and New York travelers will come since people there are still digging out from Sandy, though Bjork got a call from a Long Island, N.Y. woman who just got her power back on and booked a Thanksgiving stay.
The long-term outlook may be good for resorts that were spared the worst of the storm.
"Next year we're bound to see an increase in business because of other areas being impacted. How much? It's too soon to tell," Cooke said.
The Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May, saying its "heart aches for neighbors to the north," and in "gratitude for being spared," is sponsoring a free day-long conference on Dec. 3 at Cape May Convention Hall that will highlight ways small business can recover from Sandy.
Titled "Restore the Shore: Getting N.J. Small Business Back to Work," the program will include experts in tourism, business, insurance, Red Cross, FEMA, and public safety officials, among others.
The morning session that begins at 8:10 a.m. is on disaster preparedness while the afternoon segment beginning at 1 p.m. is on restoration and recovery. Those who live further north are invited to a sister program at Rutgers University the same day.