The following story of rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy was submitted by Katie Ball, who with her brother, John, runs three Laura's Fudge Shops in Ocean City.
The downtown and boardwalk locations are now open with shipping orders available at (609) 399-0616, and the Balls are hoping to have their rebuilt 34th Street location open by Memorial Day Weekend.
Their efforts to reopen are representative of hundreds of other Ocean City business owners who have worked tirelessly to restore their businesses in time for the 2013 season.
There is one name that Ocean City will remember for a long time to come: Sandy.
Each of us was affected in one way or another as the floodwaters of Sandy destroyed parts of our much-loved hometown. Laura’s Fudge Shop was one of the many businesses and homes that suffered damage.
As owners of Laura’s Fudge, both John and I are locals and Ocean City natives. When Sandy struck this past October, I stayed on the island with my family and watched the water cover our streets and the neighborhood we grew up in over the two high tides. When the floodwater receded, the rain stopped and the wind subsided that Tuesday after the storm hit, we immediately went to check on our three stores, not sure what we would find.
Our first stop was Asbury Avenue. Friends of ours live next to the store and had sent pictures during the storm, so we had some idea of what to expect — about a foot of water inside the store. The water, unstopped by sandbags and every attempt we made at protecting the store, had clearly rushed into the store. The water destroyed refrigerators, freezers, floors and walls, all while leaving a thick covering of mud. It tossed displays, filing cabinets and products around, scattering objects all over the store.
Next stop, our Ninth Street and Boardwalk store. We were expecting things much worse than what we had found. The waves had rushed right under the boardwalk, sparing the store but creating a massive beach behind us and in the Ninth Street parking lots. The waves took out fences, ramps, a storage shed and a neighboring store’s sign but the inside was spared except the loss of electricity. The parking lots behind us were full of debris and foam still as we started the journey to our last store, which was the worst-hit: 34th Street and West Avenue.
We knew this one was going to be bad, but in our wildest dreams, we never expected four feet of water in the store. Four feet — enough water to flip an entire chest freezer and display cases. Everything was ruined, nothing could be spared. We would open cabinet drawers filled with water and find minnows still swimming around in them. It was heartbreaking to see an entire store destroyed by just one storm.
Cleanup started immediately, and we got to work removing the water still in the stores. We went through more gallons of bleach than I care to remember and scrubbed every surface of the stores. We had huge fans and heaters drying out the stores the best we could.
We watched as, days later, people started coming back on the island to their stores and tossed everything just as we had. All along Asbury Avenue, stores were trying to find a place to just start the process. Eventually, renovations started, walls were torn out, floors torn up, cabinets removed and everything just thrown away. An entire store full of product from gearing up for a busy Christmas season was all tossed into one of the many dumpsters that lined the streets of Asbury Avenue.
Months of renovations ensued, as the inside of the 34th Street store had to be completely rebuilt along with the Asbury Ave store. An entire winter season of sales: gone. So now here we are, mid-March and our first day back open.
It took an entire two weeks of just making product to fill the displays and shelves before we could open back up. The process is not over yet, as the 34th Street store is still under construction, but we are one more step in the right direction. We are hoping to have that store back open by the end of May, just in time for our busy Memorial Day weekend and hopefully a busy summer to follow.