The Black Trumpet restaurant was mostly spared from the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy. Spring Lake’s boardwalk was torn to bits. Homes and businesses surrounding the seafood restaurant suffered their share of damage. The old Victorian, however, was unscathed.
Though he was able to reopen the Ocean Boulevard restaurant just a couple of weeks after the late October superstorm hit the New Jersey coast, owner Mark Mikolajczyk said profits have been down between 20 and 50 percent in the months that have followed when compared to last year.
The problem, he believes, is that visitors just assume he’s closed.
On Thursday, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno visited the Black Trumpet as part of her ongoing “Open for Business” tour. The stops – Guadagno has made 21 at businesses along the shore in the past few months – are made to support the recovery effort and to reinforce the message that shore business are open and ready for their customers to return.
“For the first few weeks (business) was non-existant,” Mikolajczyk, wearing his chef whites and eagerly posing for pictures with the lieutenant governor outside of his restaurant said. “We’ve been plugging away, but it’s taken months just to get back.”
Operating a restaurant, which already has such razor thin margins, with a diminished clientele is a struggle, he said. Locals have returned to the restaurant but the out of town eaters who bolster his business have stayed away.
Destruction is still evident. The view of the beach from the Trumpet’s porch is of pilings and no boardwalk. Much of Ocean Boulevard is still closed to traffic. In Belmar, the road is blocked to cars and pedestrians and police patrol the road, warning off gawkers who just want to take a look. Construction crews and heavy machinery have replaced tourists and homeowners.
“People think the entire Jersey Shore is closed,” Guadagno said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Though she said she wants to get the message out that many businesses are already reopened, Guadagno said it’s especially important with spring less than a month away and the busy summer tourism season looming just beyond that.
In New Jersey, tourism is a $38 billion a year industry. Much of that money is made along the state’s coast and it’s crucial that small businesses reopen and that boardwalks and other tourist attractions are rebuilt. New Jersey’s revival is well on its way, she said, and returning tourists will see that this summer.
“What you’re going to see is a lot of people coming down to see gloom and doom but they’re going to be surprised by what they see instead,” she said of shore reconstruction.
For the state’s part, Guadagno said there’s going to be a marketing push to accompany the summer season. The state annually spends about $3 million in tourism and marketing advertising, but New Jersey expects to commit another $25 million to the cause through the state’s Economic Development Authority, which is receiving Sandy-earmarked funds as part of the $50.7 billion relief bill passed by Congress in January.
Guadagno also took the opportunity to plug loan programs offered by the Small Business Administration and U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program, which will begin administering funding in April.
Despite his current struggles, Mikolajczyk is optimistic about the summer. He’s confident that the boards in Spring Lake and adjacent towns like Manasquan and Belmar will be rebuilt. And while he appreciates the effort on the part of the state to fund recovery, what he needs, what shore businesses need, are for visitors to start coming back.
“I’ve never been a something for nothing kind of guy. I’ve always worked hard and I’ll keep working hard,” he said. “(Sandy) isn’t going to affect tourism, I don’t think. I am fully sure that the boardwalk will be done, which will be great, and I think the people will come back to the shore.”