LI beach businesses show July Fourth gains
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Crowds flocked again this sunny and sizzling Independence Day weekend to businesses on Long Island's shores, boosting confidence that their recovery from superstorm Sandy is underway.
Owners from a sampling of restored businesses on the South Shore and East End said the summer season got off to a sluggish start and sales suffered because of rainy weather on 13 of 30 days in June.
But customers are now back at pre-Sandy levels, they said.
"The period between Memorial Day and July 4 was a washout," said Charles Christensen, owner of Duke Falcon's Global Grill in Long Beach. "It was cold and wet and disgusting. Now, that it's sunny and beautiful, people are coming back out."
Greg Alagna, vice president of J&B Restaurant Partners based in Ronkonkoma, which operates 25 food and retail facilities in Jones Beach and Robert Moses state parks, reported a similar upswing.
"For July Fourth weekend, we are picking back up and we are stronger than ever," Alagna said.
On the Long Beach Barrier Island, which includes Long Beach, Atlantic Beach and Lido Beach, some customers came to support the recovery effort.
"Sandy had brought awareness to the Barrier Island, in turn, we are seeing new customers," said James Fallon, sales and marketing director for the Allegria Hotel in Long Beach.
Bridget and Christopher Zinna, both 27, of East Rockaway, began the celebration of their second wedding anniversary at the hotel's rooftop pool, overlooking the beach.
"I wanted to stay local," Christopher Zinna said. "It looks like a new place. The only thing is you look down and the boardwalk isn't there."
The 2.2-mile oceanfront boardwalk is undergoing a $44.2 million reconstruction, expected to be completed by November.
Freeport's Nautical Mile is also back in full swing with people patronizing dozens of Sandy-slammed businesses that reopened Memorial Day weekend, said Lois Howes, first vice president of the Freeport Chamber of Commerce.
"Freeport people and out-of-towners are making an effort to go and support us," she said. "It has been really packed on the weekends."
Hudson on the Mile in Freeport and Maliblue Oyster Bar in Lido Beach are doing better than ever after suffering $1.5 million in damage, said Butch Yamali, president of the Freeport-based Dover Group, which owns them. Maliblue drew a record 10,000 people on Independence Day, he said.
"We had to close the parking lots and swimming pools because it was so crowded," Yamali said.
Many businesses in Montauk have been very busy, said Paul Monte, president of the local Chamber of Commerce.
"The restaurants seem to be doing pretty well," said Monte, adding many businesses restored adjacent beaches that suffered erosion due to Sandy. "The hotels and motels are reporting high occupancy levels. Fishing boats are reporting to be doing pretty well."
But Jon Taylor, president of the Babylon Chamber of Commerce, said local business sales there are down 30 percent so far compared with last year.
"The problem is that a lot of our community is not rebuilt," Taylor said. "There is much less disposable income to spread around to the discretionary local businesses. We are trying to get people who were less affected to come in and support our businesses. We are hoping to see an upswing this summer."
The bottom line is that strong sales through Labor Day are crucial for businesses to be profitable, said Christensen, the Long Beach restaurateur.
"We have to have a killer summer," he said. "Whether it is going to happen or not it is still up for grabs. If the weather works with us, then everything would fall into place."