Like so many, the Jersey Shore defined my childhood, and it still impacts my life every single day. But after superstorm Sandy, the future of life there has hit home—literally.
My family owns two amusement parks on the Jersey Shore. My grandfather and his brother, my great uncle, have run Jenkinson’s Boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach for almost three decades, although the next generation, including my father, has taken over the day-to-day operations. My family bought Casino Pier in Seaside Heights back in 2002, years before show “Jersey Shore” made the town famous. The iconic image of the roller coaster in the Atlantic Ocean: that’s Casino Pier –at least it was until Sandy.
Luckily only the park was destroyed. My family made it through.
I wasn’t with them that day. I waited out the storm in Brooklyn, N.Y. where I live, and I was stuck in my virtually unaffected section of Williamsburg as I watched image after image come in of both boardwalks in ruins. I cannot stress enough how lucky I am that my family and friends are all safe and did not suffer incredible loss of personal property. Amusement piers and boardwalks can be repaired.
Parts of Jenkinson’s have been in the family since the late ‘70s (they kept the name of the previous owners), and the majority of my immediate family works there. Over the years, I have done everything from file papers in the office to scoop ice cream. My dad sometimes refers to himself as the “chief financial officer” because he handles many of the financial aspects of running two small amusement parks, but the roles in a family business aren’t as clear-cut as those in a major corporation.
The future of the Jersey Shore
Governor Chris Christie has said he was committed to rebuilding the Jersey Shore and to get the state back on its feet.
Ken Taylor, my father, said that there was never a question that they would rebuild.
“This isn't the first hurricane to ever hit the Jersey Shore,” he said. “Everyone before us rebuilt. It's bigger than just one family business. The boardwalks have provided people with entertainment for generations. It’s important to rebuild for future generations.”
Every Easter weekend, Jenkinson’s has a two-for-one sale on the ticket books for the ride park. My dad said that the goal is to get open by Easter weekend (March 29), and be fully operating by Memorial Day, just like every other year.
But Casino Pier is another story. My dad said that they can’t put on timeline on its reopening until they can actually go into Seaside Heights and assess the damage,
“I can't say we are going to rebuild it exactly as it was, but there are definitely plans to rebuild,” he said.
Toby Wolf , the spokesperson for Jenkinson’s who's not a relative, but someone our family has known for years, told me that it is way too early to tell the total cost of the damage in Point Pleasant Beach.
She said that the reconstruction of Jenkinson’s is going to be a lot easier than that of Seaside Heights’ Casino Pier. That’s not to say that it is going to be easy, she explained, but there is easily millions of dollars worth of damage to Seaside.
My mom’s youngest brother runs Casino Pier, and, as of Monday morning, he has only been able to make it there twice since Sandy hit.
Restore the shore
Where, and how, do you even start to rebuild? By the time I made it from New York to Point Pleasant, it was Saturday morning. Sand was piled high like mounds of snow in a parking lot. Sections of the boardwalk were pushed off of their foundations. A mini golf course and snack stand known as Putt Putt were gone. Part of Stillwalk Manor, Casino Pier’s haunted house that was washed way during the storm, had crashed into the metal door of an arcade building some nine miles away. Sections of the pier of Martell’s Tiki Bar had broken off and smashed into different parts of the boardwalk.
Still, my mom kept telling me how much better things looked. Seasonal employees, who really don't have to be there, have been in Point Pleasant Beach picking up the pieces since it was safe for them to make it to the boardwalk. Arcade managers were wearing facemasks to clean out the storage from one of the restaurants. Ruined inventory has been sorted and carted away, sand has been swept away, and the 1,800 animals in Jenkinson’s Aquarium are now swimming, swinging and waddling around safely.
Jenkinson’s has private insurance to deal with, and absolutely everything is going to have to be inspected. The town of Point Pleasant Beach is responsible for fixing the main pedestrian parts of the physical boardwalk. Safety precautions had been taken in preparation, but Mother Nature proved a lot stronger than sandbags and metal barriers. Luckily, the majority of the amusement park rides at
Jenkinson’s had already been put in storage after the end of the season, and almost all of the remaining ones were moved inside before the storm. Watching NBC’s benefit concert on TV from my aunt’s house in Point Pleasant Beach which, believe it or not, had power, was surreal. They showed sandbags being placed on the roof of Little Macs, a pizza place at Jenkinson’s where I have eaten more times than I can count. My aunt, who lives in Point Pleasant Beach, saw people she knows be interviewed about the destruction of the town and their homes. One summer during college, I interned at “The Ocean Star,” a weekly newspaper that covers five Jersey Shore towns that saw some of Sandy’s worst: Point Pleasant, Point Pleasant Beach, Bay Head, Lavallette and Mantoloking. Many of the mansions, bungalows and beach houses on the barrier islands are gone.
Something that wasn’t washed away is hope. As cheesy as it sounds, hope is what is going to get us through this. The Jersey Shore I know and love will bounce back.