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SEA BRIGHT: MERCHANTS PLAN NEW STARTS

Cono Trezza in his newly built pizzeria last February, and as it appeared five days after the storm, below. (Photo below by Peter Lindner. Click to enlarge)

By WIL FULTON

For owners of Sea Bright businesses damaged by Hurricane Sandy, the rebuilding process has just begun. As they assess the damages and take steps toward the recovery of their livelihoods, each has his or her own distinct post-Sandy tale to tell. redbankgreen spoke to four of them this week about their plans in the aftermath of the cataclysmic events that ravaged through their beach community. Here are their stories.

Sea Bright Pizza:
Cono Trezza faces an uphill battle, like most property owners in Sea Bright, though he is meeting it with spirit and vigor that some might find surprising, given the state of his business.

“I want to get back as soon as possible,” Trezza said. “If my ovens were working right now I’d start cooking pizzas for everyone that’s out here.”

As reported here earlier this year, Trezza moved his restaurant two doors down Ocean Avenue in February, settling into cozy space with exposed brick walls and a stone facade. The storm laid most of his efforts and investment to waste. Though he’ll now need to fully rebuild the interior of his shop, the building remains structurally sound. (The space he formerly leased was completely destroyed.)

Trezza has been helping Woody’s Ocean Grill owner Chris Wood and other local vendors with their ongoing recovery efforts, and says he believes that they key to Sea Bright’s reemergence lies in the willpower of its residents and proprietors.

“It almost brings a tear to my eye, the outpouring of help we’re getting down here,” he said. “Even with the pizza shop, I’m getting calls from customers wanting to help me out, for no other reason than to see me back on my feet and succeeding again.”

Trezza plans to start the restoration process as early as this tomorrow, and said he hopes to be up and running by early February. He’s absolutely guaranteeing that he’ll be ready for the summer season.

“I’m not working so hard, helping out and rebuilding, for the publicity or the credit,” he said. “I’m doing it for my family, my customers and the town of Sea Bright. That’s what really matters.”

The owners of Gracie and the Dudes ice cream also plan to rebuild. (Photo below by Wil Fulton. Click to enlarge)

Gracie and the Dudes:
Michelle and Brian McMullin, owners of the Gracie and the Dudes ice cream shop, expect a battle when it comes to rebuilding their decimated storefront.

“Building in Sea Bright – or any other town for that matter – in the best of circumstances is hard and arduous enough, but now that so many of us need to rebuild in such a short amount of time, we all are going to vying for time with inspectors and officials,” Michelle told redbankgreen over the phone earlier this week. “It’s really going to be trying.”

Because so many businesses need so much work done in the next few months, an inspection system already considered by some to be strained will face even more time-consuming challenges than usual. Business owners who want to rebuild may have to cope with lengthy and numerous visits from inspectors, not to mention the obtaining the required building permits and approvals that make the task of rebuilding that more troublesome.

But despite the obstacles they anticipate, which includes replacing all their equipment because it was wrecked in the storm, the McMullin’s fully intend to rebuild Gracie and the Dudes, and do it better this time, they said.

“We’re going to try and build an extra step leading up to the storefront,” Michelle adds, “Plus we’re going to raise the windows and probably install hurricane shutters, just to add an extra level of protection.”

In addition to the additional safety measures, the McMullins plan to incorporate a public restroom in the store for their customers, something they believe is needed in downtown Sea Bright.

“So many of our customers ask if we have a public restroom, and unfortunately we didn’t. So this rebuilding process gives us a chance to add extra dimensions to our store, like a bathroom, that we wouldn’t have been able to do before.” Michelle said.

Ironically, the public toilet that used to be across the street is now residing fully intact on the shop’s back lot. The McMullins are still awaiting its removal.

Its store space all but obliterated, haberdasher Northshore Men’s Wear will relocate, first to a temporary spot in Rumson, and then to a new space on the opposite side of Ocean Avenue, said owner Brian George. (Click to enlarge)

Northshore Men’s Wear:
Whereas the McMullins consider themselves somewhat lucky because the hurricane struck after their busy season, Brian George, owner of Northshore Men’s Wear, faces the task of rebuilding at the start of his most profitable period.

“Obviously, no time is a good time for something like this to happen, but for my business, it couldn’t come at a worse time,” George said. He estimated that roughly 40 percent of his profits come during the fourth quarter, which is dominated by the holiday season.

Northshore plans to reopen on March 1 at a new Sea Bright location between Woody’s and the Mad Hatter, in a building George refers to as “Big Yellow.” In the meantime, he is doing all he can to try and remain operational. With generous amounts of help from long-standing partnerships with vendors as well as outreach from loyal customers, George said he will be able to set up a  shop for the holiday season.

“On December first, we’re going to be opening up a temporary shop, back where we started over 30 years ago, in Rumson, on 45 River Road, right across from Brennan’s,” he said. “Hopefully this will help us get through the season alright.”

That’s no easy task, considering his merchandise was completely wiped out by the storm and his store was totally destroyed, with pieces of the building reportedly seen floating in the Shrewsbury River.

“This is my livelihood,” George said, with emotion in his voice. “I can’t just sit around and wait, I need to start as soon as possible and try to rectify the situation. It’s like they say, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Salon Mari:
Salon Mari owner Mark Fautz still exhibits a level of disbelief when looking back and speaking about the damage inflicted on his salon over two weeks ago.

“Its absolutely mind-boggling,” he said. “The shop is completely gutted – the floors, the merchandise, the equipment, everything.”

Fautz is unsure of his plans going forward, and still awaits confirmation from insurer that it will compensate him for the flood-induced damages.

“We only had basic business insurance, and we have yet to find out if it will cover flood damages or not, so we really have to wait on that decision before we decide to rebuild,” he said. FEMA is apparently not much help to the ruined Salon either, telling Fautz to redirect his inquiries to the Small Business Administration, where he can take out loans at interest.

If he can rebuild, Fautz said he intends to do so in Sea Bright again, but this time more inland, if possible.

“I just don’t want to go through all this again.” he said.

In the meantime, Fautz and his employees were able to set up shop temporarily in Kevin Allen Salon, on Atlantic Avenue in Long Branch. Though he lost his entire list of contacts, he said he hopes by word of mouth and outlets like redbankgreen, he can effectively spread the word.

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