I am a collector of stories. People come up to me in the oddest places, and tell me their story. It doesn’t matter if it’s happy or sad, they tell me. At times, it can be draining. Other times, refreshing. Then you have stories you carry on your shoulders for days.
The story I’m sharing today is a reminder as to why we can’t be afraid to travel to a location after a large natural disaster. Tourism dollars are integral parts of these communities and without them, they wither away and die, shells of what they once were.
Last weekend, I met Frank. He’s a wonderful man who lives in New Jersey and owns D’Jais, a great club/restaurant in Belmar. Frank hosted our rag-tag group of social media travelers. He was our landing spot where we met the mayor, surfed in the rain and explored this town he calls home.
Frank’s story didn’t come easily. His ocean front property, across the road from the beach and boardwalk, was heavily hit by Hurricane Sandy. But, he’s resilient. Frank has been in the night club business for a long time, with other spots in New York City, before landing in Belmar to live near his mother.
The only things that were really original of his club/restaurant were the concrete pad and walls. The bars were also salvaged. He was lucky he didn’t have to tear down. However, he told me about his cellar that had to be completely redone. The kitchen that was destroyed. The DJ equipment looked to be brand new as the water and electrical surges most likely destroyed the old equipment.
His repair expenses have topped 1.1 million dollars.
Frank had flood insurance, but that, combined with FEMA money, only totaled $800,000. He had to come up with $300,000 and was still doing repairs to get his property back to where it needed to be.
Frank’s home? That’s a different story. Even though he had flood insurance, it’s still not habitable. FEMA says they can’t help him because the damage was caused by flooding. His insurance company says they can’t help because it was caused by Hurricane Sandy. His home is not some palatial beach home sitting on the coast, but a small apartment.
So, he lives in another small apartment, waiting to settle this disagreement. All the while, he’s at his business, trying to rebuild it, hoping the tourists come back, while struggling with settlements he’s not sure will ever happen.
However, he remains optimistic. He was happy to see us. He believed in our mission. Mostly, he was thankful New Jersey hasn’t been forgotten. Because most days, it feels as if they are on something akin to Gilligans Island. Not expecting a rescue, but wondering where the people are. He’s ready for normalcy, knowing it may not come for many years.