This is a profile of a town being rebuilt after it lost its beachfront to Superstorm Sandy.
Long Branch, New Jersey, was battered by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 and the famous boardwalk was wiped away. But a few years later, the most popular and significant tourist destination along the Jersey Shore is now once again home to a huge boardwalk, with signs of life everywhere.
Restaurants and bars have opened their doors again and local residents are leasing beachfront properties again.
Three years ago, the boardwalk collapsed as the ferocious storm washed over the peninsula and about half of Long Branch’s businesses remained closed. It was all too familiar to survivors in many of the surrounding communities as businesses in Long Branch, Lavallette, Asbury Park and Manasquan have often not been able to reopen in the months and years after a natural disaster.
With the restoration of the boardwalk, many are now doing the same.
Hans von Moltke is an artist from Pennsylvania who wanted to come to a place where people do like to go to and he saw Long Branch as a place to invest his time and money.
“We’re rebuilding and redeveloping and reinventing our community in general, and as we do that we hope to be a tourist destination for New Jersey,” he said.
Of course, there’s going to be challenges as the town tries to attract visitors and new business owners – the state of Long Branch has to pay for reconstruction work, which includes repairing the structural damage to the utilities.
The business that gained the most traction in Long Branch last year was The Joy Cafe, a place where customers can get a full breakfast at the bar. They were anticipating a steady stream of customers, but didn’t expect the large crowds that were here to stay.
The crowds followed a real-life character into this town – Debbie Miesen, the lonely dog who became known as “Fluffy” in the aftermath of Sandy after residents were fed up with her veterinarian treating her pain with a prescription pain killer.
“The first week was packed,” Ms. Miesen said as she pointed to her phone.
Two years later, Ms. Miesen is much happier in her new home. While the business is in high demand for wedding parties and well-heeled families, it doesn’t quite live up to the expectations of the owners.
“We’re not where we think we should be, but we’re grateful for where we are,” said Dan Hayden, the owner of Dee Dappled, the rental agency that’s helping customers find vacation rentals.
Long Branch is not alone in its hopes for a stronger tourism industry. Passaic County in southern New Jersey lost $45 million in tourism revenue in 2012 due to the storm, with tourists spending less on trips, and many of the small businesses that have been standing for years during good times are feeling the impact of Sandy.
More than two years later, state economic development officials are doing what they can to make sure the rebuilding effort continues. An economic forecast released by the state’s Department of Community Affairs projects that the tourism industry should contribute $1.5 billion in earnings in 2016 and $2.7 billion in annual earnings by 2020.
“The opportunity to rebuild homes, businesses and reconstruct a tourism infrastructure in the wake of Sandy was an opportunity we could not pass up,” said Christina Renna, the coordinator of the Coastal Resiliency Program within the Department of Community Affairs.
The rebuilding effort in Long Branch, along with other communities like Seaside Heights and Mantoloking, has residents and those in the tourism industry alike getting excited about the coming summer season.
“I can’t wait for summer; there’s always excitement here,” said Adriana Magriglia, a Long Branch resident who works for a law firm in Wildwood Crest.
“There’s been tons of activity here. It’s very positive for the shore.”
Liana Khoury is a special correspondent.