The ocean came over the boardwalk, took its boards inland during the surge, smashing homes and businesses with debris, sand and feet of water. The clean-up and rebuilding of Belmar's beachfront continues months after Hurricane Sandy devastated much of its property, and since the storm Ocean Avenue has remained closed.
But that changed Sunday, when local officials decided to open up the north-south corridor to vehicle and pedestrian traffic to help mitigate the expected crowds for the day's St. Patrick's Day Parade. In one day, the beachfront saw onlookers snapping pictures and climbing the unfinished boardwalk. Come sunset, crews began restoring cement barricades and chain link fences to again prevent access.
Now, Monday, construction resumes and the road is again closed as Epic Construction drives pilings and lays underdecking along the beach to rebuild the boardwalk. Construction continues weekdays between 7 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. and the road is expected to remain closed while heavy equipment works along the roadway.
Sunday's access meant for many Belmar visitors a chance to proclaim: "This is the first time I had seen this" — the "this" being what Belmar looks like post-Hurricane Sandy.
At this point, while buildings are in differing states of repair and disrepair, the boardwalk rebuild is chugging along, with pilings lain past D'Jais Bar and underdecking almost halfway installed up the beachfront. The boards themselves have begun at the north end, and giant piles of timber line the roadway, stacked high.
D'Jais, open to serve alcohol thanks to an extension of seasonal liquor licenses throughout the state, was bustling all day Sunday with the buzz of St. Patrick's crowds, though plywood still covered some of its windows.
Jimmy's Pizza was blasting Irish music and serving up its trademark pizza and breakfast sandwiches. Though several doors were shuttered in between, 7-11 was open and serving customers with sandwiches, coffee, groceries and other convenience items, nearby benches full as a place to sit.
Though many construction fences were up along the sand to prevent visitors, gaps along the beach meant onlookers were using pilings and underdecking as balance beams to take photos or see the oceanfront. High piles of sand were transversed by climbers who made it to the other side for their first beachwalk in Belmar since Hurricane Sandy.
Though it was blocks from the parade route, parking was ample along Ocean Avenue, while vehicles driving by to leave the parade crowds or gawk at the waterfront crawled north and south.
Vicki Aitchison, an assistant manager at the Ocean Avenue 7-11, said Sunday was overwhelmingly the busiest day since the convenience store reopened Jan. 19 after a hard cleanup. Customers had been trickling in since reopening, but parade day and an open Ocean Avenue made a big impact, she said.
Despite the activity, and the roadway's opening for the day, it's generally assumed all businesses on Ocean Avenue are closed. But that's not the case, Aitchison said.
"It's a struggle. People around the corner don't know we are open, and are surprised when they see they don't have to travel inland, that things are starting to open here," she said.
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