Summers at the jersey shore have left lasting memories for many of us. For me, the Shore means fond memories of countless hours with friends and family at the seasonal attractions (like the Surf Club in Ortley Beach, which was washed away by Superstorm Sandy) and restaurants (my favorite these days is Little Mia’s in Lavallette) that somehow always felt like home.
A favorite icon of the Shore is Barnacle Bill’s, a miniature golf course and restaurant in Ortley Beach owned by Bill and JoAnn Petruzel. Like so many businesses, Barnacle Bill’s—which has been around for more than 50 years— made a commitment to rebuild after Sandy struck almost six years ago. “The entire golf course had to be rebuilt; the restaurant and the arcade and all our equipment was destroyed,” says Bill Petruzel. “The arcade was especially painful since all the games that we collected over 40 years were destroyed.”
Sadly, some businesses were unable to reopen after the storm. Those that did have given much of the Shore a new face. “It seems like we have a new beach, a new town, a lot of new people and a lot of reinvented businesses,” says Bill. He adds that Barnacle Bill’s was able to recover from Sandy’s onslaught only because his family was in a solid financial position at the time. When concerned customers asked about the future, he replied, “Of course, of course, we are coming back.” And Barnacle Bill’s is not going anywhere soon. Two sons, Mike and A.J., are committed to running the family business for years to come.
Thankfully, Barnacle Bill’s is not alone. The Sawmill restaurant and bar, a staple on the Seaside Park boardwalk since 1977, is owned and operated by the D’Onofrio family. It too has recovered from Sandy—and more.
“Sandy came and made a mess of everything,” says Sawmill general manager Ron Rinaldi, who witnessed firsthand the storm-driven surf pounding the boardwalk at high tide. But Seaside Park was in for a double disaster. “The final damage was the fire on the boardwalk that happened just shy of a year after Sandy,” Rinaldi explains. The fire has been blamed on wiring that was damaged by the flooding and storm surge.
While the fire started near Kohr’s Frozen Custard shop on the boardwalk, it consumed other businesses, including those that had begun to rebuild after the storm. “Everything on the Seaside Park boardwalk was destroyed but us, because we had outdoor fire sprinklers,” says Rinaldi.
More then 50 businesses were wrecked by the storm and the fire, says Rinaldi. By last summer, most were up and running again. Rinaldi says Seaside Park had a great season in 2017 and expects many more. “The Sawmill is a destination restaurant and has been for the past 40 years,” he says. “We will be here for years to come.”
Hurricane Sandy left behind a tremendous amount of destruction, but it also provided an opportunity for infrastructure improvements, particularly along the barrier islands, where much is now elevated and protected from future storms. There are also new bridges, highways and bicycle lanes.
Yes, the Jersey Shore is still far from what it once was. But Shore residents and business owners are resilient. True, some were unable to stay and rebuild, but those who did will ensure that generations to come will have the chance to make their own memories of the Jersey Shore.
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