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Middle-class Atlantic City seniors take advantage of all resort offers

ATLANTIC CITY — When people visit the Absecon Lighthouse between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. most Thursdays, the first person they see and the friendly voice they hear belongs to a gray-haired woman with glasses wearing a lighthouse cap and sweatshirt.

Gwen Demones is the ideal person to greet someone who is stopping by the lighthouse and the resort for the first time.

Demones, who is in her 80s, has lived in the city for at least 60 years, has been retired for 23 years and has volunteered at the lighthouse for more than 15 years. She is a wealth of information for the curious.

“You have to give back, and I enjoy it,” said Demones, who added she started volunteering at the lighthouse because she found it interesting. “It’s a landmark in Atlantic City.”

For seniors like Demones, who are in good health, have their own home and own a vehicle, the resort is a playground they now have more time to enjoy. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 13.2% of the city’s estimated 37,084 residents were 65 or older in 2018.

Without health, a paid-off home or the ability to drive, living in the resort becomes a little more difficult.

Elizabeth Terenik, the city’s director of planning and development from 2014 to 2017, said the resort could use more housing for seniors, so they could stay in their homes longer.

Johnson Report

There are waiting lists for affordable housing in the city, said Adrienne Epstein, executive director of Beron Jewish Older Adult Services of Atlantic County.

Seniors who do not have cars can make their way through the city on foot, on bicycles or via jitneys, cabs or buses. The Atlantic County Division of Intergenerational Services provides transportation for those 60 and older for essential life services such as dialysis treatment, therapy programs, doctor visits and daily nutrition-site services.

More free transportation could be offered for seniors who do not have a car, cannot drive or who have trouble walking, said Epstein, who works out of the Herman Pogachefsky Senior Services Pavilion on Atlantic Avenue.

Like any other community, having a mix of people of different ages, life perspectives and stages of life in Atlantic City makes for a dynamic, healthy environment, said Lisa M. Ryan, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.

“For Atlantic City in particular, more residents of all age groups will help lead to the rehabilitation of underutilized properties, revitalized business districts, reduced blight and expanded entertainment options,” Ryan said.

According to the state’s transition report on Atlantic City, co-authored by Jim Johnson, special counsel to Gov. Phil Murphy, the two demographic groups that compose the majority of the U.S. population — millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) and baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) — are looking for similar characteristics in residential locations.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the resort had an estimated population in 2017 of 39,075. Those between the ages of 25 and 34 totaled 5,380 and comprised 13.8% of the population. Those between the ages of 55 and 74 totaled 7,633, and made up 19.6% of the resort’s population.

They are looking for walkable, bikeable neighborhoods and streets; amenities and work within walking radius; smaller houses or smaller units at lower cost; an urban street environment; access to transit; and access to nature and recreation.

When Jean Griffin was in college and living in Boston, she took an acting class for fun. Years later, when she returned to the city where she was born, she took an acting class at Weist-Barron-Ryan but was too busy to attend her callbacks for commercial auditions.

Now 81, Griffin has time to explore her creativity through an improv comedy workshop led by Madelaine Welch, artistic director of Unity’s Theatre Troupe and held every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Dante Hall Theater in the Ducktown part of the city.

During a recent Tuesday, Griffin participated on stage in a two-person scene. Griffin and the other woman pretended to be in a beauty parlor, but each person had to reply to the other with a sentence starting with the next letter of the alphabet.

Improv class is just one of the things Griffin does in the city. She also attends the Pages Two book club; sees live theater performances at Dante Hall and the Claridge hotel; walks the Boardwalk; plays the card game Pokeno with the Golden Circle; serves as treasurer of the Children’s Cultural Arts Foundation in the resort; and eats at local restaurants.

“I think (Atlantic City is) underrated. People don’t know what they have here. For some of us, who retired and moved back here, we appreciate it,” Griffin said.

Charles Garrett, 72, knows in some areas of the country he would not be able to afford a house on the water where he can fish from the dock at the back of his house. But he can do that at his Venice Park home, which sits on the intracoastal waterway.

A city native who once ran for mayor, Garrett bought the house he now lives in, which used to be his mother’s home, in 1972.

Garrett, a member of the city’s Athletic Hall of Fame, enjoys spending his free time fishing and crabbing, but if he wants a beach experience, he will visit Inlet Beach on Adriatic Avenue.

Garrett and his wife, Augusta, attend the free Chicken Bone Beach jazz concerts in the summer at Kennedy Plaza. Once a year on one of their birthdays, they will stay overnight in a casino and gamble.

“There is a lot of stuff going on in Atlantic City. You just have to be aware of it,” Garrett said. “Sometimes, I have to pinch myself. It’s like a dream.”

Atlantic City Implementation Plan

Atlantic City sportsbooks catch Women's World Cup fever

ATLANTIC CITY — Patriotism was at a fever pitch for the U.S. Women’s National Team World Cup final at the resort’s sportsbooks on Sunday.

And the game’s ending was never in doubt for soccer fans.

Bobby Smith, 68, of Hamilton Township, Mercer County, and his 31-year-old son, Ryan, dropped into Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa’s new Moneyline Bar & Book to watch the soccer match after a long holiday weekend.

Smith, a National Soccer Hall of Fame member, played with the U.S. Men’s National Team as well as the Philadelphia Atoms and New York Cosmos during his career.

He was confident the United States was going to celebrate back-to-back World Cup championships Sunday.

“(The women’s team) has played great. They’re the best team,” Smith said, while the game was still scoreless. “All their games have been tough, but I think they’re the better team (today).”

At The Sportbook inside Golden Nugget Atlantic City, former college soccer player Brian Laurinaitis, 35, of Philadelphia, liked what he has seen from the women’s team during its tournament run.

“They’re cocky and they’re backing it up,” he said. “It’s nice to see.”

Besides being a fan and betting on the women to win outright, Laurinaitis had another motivation for cheering on the national team.

“I’m proud to be an American,” he said.

Robert Wieccorek, 49, of East Rutherford, Bergen County, was born in Poland, but his allegiance was to the U.S. Women’s National Team. Wieccorek said he had not bet on the match while watching intently inside Borgata’s new sportsbook, but had a bold prediction.

“The United States will win 2-1,” he said.

At The Book inside Bally’s Atlantic City, which is the largest sportsbook in the resort at nearly 15,000-square-feet, fans erupted when the U.S. team notched both of its goals.

“That’s what you want to see,” yelled Rita, who along with her husband Jerry declined to give a last name, of Langhorne, Pennsylvania. “Go USA!”

The USWNT defeated the Netherlands 2-0 in France. The team won its fourth World Cup, with previous victories coming in 1991, 1999 and 2015.

A ticker-tape parade will be held Wednesday down the “Canyon of Heroes” in New York City.

The U.S. women’s soccer team also had a parade in their honor through Lower Manahttan in 2015, the last professional sports team to do so.

Philly-famous DJ Jerry Blavat creates generations of 'Memories' down the shore

MARGATE — Around 9 p.m. Thursday night, the crowds on Amherst Avenue make the shift from dinner and drinks at the area’s restaurants to the one spot left for a classic night on the town: Jerry Blavat’s Memories.

“Once you go and dance and have fun — you make the memories. I wanted you to come back and remake those memories for the first time you came here,” Blavat said.

The walls are decorated with photos of Blavat’s friends: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., along with moments from his career on TV. His staff has deep ties to Memories as well, with bartenders and security guards coming back every summer; the same gigs their parents had decades before.

Memories opens to the public around 4 p.m., but the party doesn’t get started until Blavat gets behind the turntables for his Live from Memories radio dance party, playing everything in his music library.

Between shuffling through his 45 rpm records, “The Geator with the Heater” — his longstanding on-air nickname — stops to take photos with fans who approach the elevated DJ booth.

Early in the night, the dance floor floods with couples and friends dancing to “The Bristol Stomp” and “The Twist.” By midnight, the scene turns multi-generational, with Baby Boomers to young millennials hitting the dance floor.

Though for Blavat, his crowd will all be “yon teenagers” — a phrase The Geator uses to describe his young-at-heart fan base beyond their teenage years.

“From Beyonce to Bruno Mars,” Blavat said, “but you have to see it when the crowd sings along. I’ll put on ‘My Girl,’ I’ll put on ‘I Can’t Help Myself’ and everyone will be singing.”

For 47 years, Memories in Margate has been a destination for fans of classic rock and roll and doo-wop to dance with a true Philadelphia legend. But Blavat said crossing state lines was important to keeping the party going.

“The shore points were big in my career,” Blavat said.

While his television show “The Discophonic Scene” was filmed and broadcast from the WCAU-TV studios in Philadelphia in the 1960s, Blavat realized his dance crowds would leave the city and summer down the shore.

Blavat was no stranger to South Jersey and the area was already familiar with The Geator. Blavat’s radio program was already broadcast on WMID 1340-AM.

In 1972, Margate’s Amherst Avenue was a bit different. Blavat said he purchased the former Elbow Room club — one of the seven bars in the three-block strip of the Barbary Coast, with the idea to bring his South Philly rock and roll down the shore.

The area changed, with bars like the Old Tavern, The Beacon and Kelly’s Pub falling by the wayside, but Memories has remained.

“When I bought Memories, people said, ‘Who’s gonna come to see you?’ The answer was the locals. I opened a place for the locals to dance in the winter,” he said.

Memories now runs Memorial Day to Labor Day and still caters to the city-to-shore crowd.

His “Live from Memories” radio dance parties now broadcast locally on WTKU 98.3-FM until midnight and continue to introduce a new generation of shore partiers to “The Boss with the Hot Sauce.”

“Music is a story of life,” Blavat said. “If the music is good, it will bring people together: young and old.” And the music is what keeps him going.

The summer’s halfway point leads into a big weekend for Blavat, who’s birthday celebration coincides with the Fourth of July weekend. Though The Geator will be blowing out 79 candles this year, he still rock and rolls like the young disc jockey who got his start on the Philadelphia airwaves.

“You remember that night in ‘63?” Blavat said over The Four Seasons disco classic, “I was a much younger man then. ... I was 23 ... but I’m still dancing.”

In the summer, Blavat bring his act weekly to The Deck at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City, The Inlet in North Wildwood, The Starlight and the Avalon Pier. Not to mention gigs taking him back and forth to Philadelphia.

His event schedule rivals performers a quarter of his age. Blavat doesn’t seem to be much different than his days as a Bandstand dancer. He still bops along to the songs he’s been playing for a half a century and hosts one of the most popular dance parties in the area.

“The job that I’ve had is making people happy,” Blavat said.

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