A deal to purchase the Sea Isle City landmark seafood restaurant Busch's and turn it into a blocklong complex of condominiums and eateries has fallen through.
"Ding dong the deal is dead," Busch's owner and chef Al Schettig said Monday. "We'll probably be operating next year same as this year unless another buyer comes by that can deliver."
Schettig said the buyer recently backed out of a deal to purchase the property and redevelop it.
The 450-seat restaurant at 87th and Landis Avenue opened in 1882 as a hotel and has been a family-owned restaurant in the southern end of Sea Isle City for nearly a century.
The 86th Street Development Company LLC had approached the restaurant with an offer to buy, making plans to demolish the structure and build a city-block-wide complex of several new restaurants and 13 condominiums above them.
Chris Glancey, a local businessman and one of the principals of 86th Street Development, said he could not find replacement restaurants to fill the retail space and had to pass on the deal.
"With the current economic climate, restaurateurs are very reluctant to open," he said.
"I don't want to leave empty commercial space," he said. "That's no benefit to anybody."
Glancey maintained hopes the property would eventually be redeveloped by someone - even potentially his company - when the economy rebounds.
"It's definitely going to get redone in the next couple of years," he said. "It's a great location and it just needs to find some people to run some restaurants."
Meanwhile, Schettig said the seasonal restaurant will continue to operate and will most likely reopen next year. Busch's had planned to stay in business in Sea Isle City by opening a take-out seafood place nearby.
The future of that operation - and of the restaurant itself - are still to be determined.
"We're not really disappointed, we're neutral," Schettig said. "I guess in some mild form we were making other plans. We were still going to work with Busch's take-out markets and that's still a continuing possibility. Exactly how we feel is basically this deal wasn't meant to be and there will be another one in the future. And we have such a strong business and a loyalty of customers, most of them will probably be happy."
The restaurant is closed on Mondays. But business has been good this year, said Schettig, who sold more than 100 gallons of she-crab soup on Sunday.
One of the concerns of Busch's was upkeep and upcoming repairs of the large restaurant, which is open 99 days of the year.
Schettig said the restaurant would look for ways to fix and patch up the building until another buyer comes along.
"The world of business has its ups and downs. Deals are off and on. It's just part of life," he said.
Schettig said he was still on good terms with the former potential buyers.
"We accepted their backing out," he said. "They called us and said we can't go forward."
George Busch - a relative to Schettig's wife, Kim - opened Busch's in 1882 as a hotel. Busch's established the restaurant in 1912.
The black-and-white building is a landmark for those crossing into Sea Isle City from Avalon.
Rebuilding at the site drew attention from developers after Sea Isle City Council in 2008 changed zoning regulations that allowed more residential units above businesses in order to keep the town's business district intact while adding residential space.
The change meant about 10 more residences could be built above the commercial units.
Sea Isle City Mayor Leonard Desiderio said the restaurant remaining open will likely be happy news for loyal patrons of the establishment, but may be disappointing for the seller and the former buyer.
"It's a shame it's not going through because I know both sides were excited about it," he said.
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