Get the hell back on the beach!
A week after telling people — in some not very subtle terms — to leave the shore as Hurricane Irene swirled up the coast, New Jersey Gov. Christie on Friday encouraged people to head back to the boardwalk with open wallets.
Last Friday, Christie told sunbathers to "get the hell off the beach in Asbury Park," a quote that was replayed on national television for days. This Friday, he took to the boardwalk to say that the worst was over, then headed to a local pub for a beer.
Beachgoers started their day early Saturday in Sea Bright, setting up their chairs and getting their feet in the sand.
"It's Labor Day weekend," said Irv Brechner. "Everybody's coming back after being washed out last weekend."
An estimated 1 million people heeded Christie's words and fled before Irene made landfall in New Jersey on Sunday, something experts have credited with saving lives.
Portions of the Spring Lake boardwalk were torn up, the southern end of Belmar's beachfront sustained flood damage and there was widespread beach erosion, but most New Jersey beaches weathered the storm without permanent damage.
The evacuations, however, carried an economic cost.
Atlantic City casinos closed for only the third time since opening in 1978 and many businesses lost revenue on a normally busy summer weekend.
"It's tough. This is our busiest time of the year. The biggest part about it is we have 70 employees out of work," said Debbie Hollen, who manages Sallee Tee's Waterfront Grille in Monmouth Beach.
Businesses are hoping for a bustling Labor Day weekend and some are offering promotions to lure people back. Caesar's Casino in Atlantic City is promoting a "Good Night Irene" party and is offering discounted hotel packages.
Some are calling this a comeback weekend for Jersey shore merchants after Hurricane Irene cleared the beaches last Sunday. Some businesses closed for as many as four days - they were flooded.
In Long Branch, merchants like Steve Hallam, who manages the Corner Cafe, are getting their shops ready for the resurgence.
"Hoping business will be really good - if the weather holds out. This weekend, it's the last hurrah," said Hallam.
The weekend forecast along the shore calls for cooler but pleasant temperatures in the low 70s on Saturday, more summer-like temperatures on Sunday, but a good chance for thunderstorms and showers on Sunday and Monday.
AAA Mid-Atlantic has predicted more than 950,000 New Jersey residents will travel 50 miles or more from home for the holiday — 3 percent fewer than 2010, said spokeswoman Tracy Noble. Many travel plans, she said, will hinge on how people fared during the storm.
Following a news conference at Point Pleasant Beach, Christie stopped off at The Ark Pub and Eatery for a beer.
Christie said he and his family are spending the weekend at the Governor's Beach House on Island Beach State Park and will be stopping at a few locations along the shore. A short time later, his brother and sister-in-law joined him at the bar.
"I'm heeding my own advice," he told those at the bar. "I'm starting my weekend at the shore as well."
Christie could barely finish his beer, with patrons lining up to take pictures and give compliments about the way he handled the storm.
Richard DiBianco, 44, of Princeton, came up to Christie to complain about property taxes and health care — something the governor said was a sign that things were getting back to normal.
"I love everything you are doing, but property taxes and health care are getting to the point where I don't know if we can stay anymore in New Jersey," DiBianco said.
For a change, Christie seemed to welcome complaints about property taxes.
"When you get back to property taxes and health insurance costs, that means people are starting to recover from the hurricane. They are complaining about the normal things that they complain about," the governor said. "I never thought I'd find relief in people complaining about property taxes, but it's a good sign."
Dan and Tony Bartone, who have owned The Ark for three years, lost power for three days during the storm and said they took a big hit. So far, Dan Bartone said he's optimistic about this weekend: "It looks like there is a lot of traffic so far and it looks like it is going to be a good weekend."