If you fix it, they will come.
That's the mantra -- and the desperate hope – of tourism-dependent towns on the Jersey Shore as they deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, which hit just eight days before Labor Day.
Places that lost boardwalks, restaurants, roads and other fixtures in the storm are terrified the tourists will simply call it a season and stay away until next summer. But businesses are determined to be open as usual during the crucial Labor Day weekend.
"If anything, the towns have their reputations at stake," Jeanne DeYoung, director of Monmouth County's division of tourism, told the Star-Ledger. "It doesn't matter what time of the season it is. They just want the tourists to havea good time so they'll come back."
The Jersey shore, like North Carolina, had Irene make landfall on its sands. And while the land of Snooki and The Situation fared well as a whole, some places did not.
Spring Lake, N.J. lost much of its beloved synthetic boardwalk, a 2-mile miracle of modern engineering that was hailed as a national model of environmental responsibility because it used recycled plastic instead of rain forest wood as many other boardwalks do.
Joggers came from miles around to run along the softer boards, which they swear are much easier on the knees than real wood.
The storm surge from Irene wiped out about 1.5 miles of the boardwalk, sending planks into the sea, while twisting others into grotesque shapes. Clearly, this is damage that can't be fixed in time for Labor Day.
So the town will have to make do with about half its beach, and very little of its boardwalk during one of the three biggest weekends of summer.
“It's going to be nowhere near what we normally have open,” said Bryan Dempsey, Spring Lake's borough administrator. “We're trying everything we can, but we're not going to put anyone in danger just to have a beach day.”
The beach will open on Tuesday, after officials took a helicopter to fly over the surf to make sure planks of damaged boardwalk were not floating in the waves, ready to injure swimmers.
Ocean City, N.J., is also reopening its beaches on Tuesday. Swimmers returned to the water on Monday, but without lifeguards, who had moved all their rescue equipment offshore in anticipation of the hurricane. The beach resort suffered hardly any damage at all aside from some beach erosion. Now all that remains is convincing people to come for one last summer weekend.
“We're back in business, and looking to finish out what has been a really good summer,” said Frank Donato, the city's emergency management coordinator.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had a fit of pique over seeing people lounging on the beach in Asbury Park as the storm approached, and after he had declared a state of emergency that led to many mandatory evacuations.
“Get the hell off the beach!” he thundered at a news conference.
But now, Christie is singing a different tune: Please get the hell back on the beach.
At a news conference Monday night, he urged people to get in their cars and go to the Jersey shore for the Labor Day weekend, predicting there would be vacancies as a result of Irene.
“Be an opportunist,” he said. “You'll probably get a good price.”