On day of nation’s birth, signs of rebirth at shore

Grace Sabbagh, from Washington Twp. and Jose Ortiz, from Philidelphia, enjoy relaxing on the Belmar Beach Thursday afternoon. People enjoy the nice weather on the 4th of July holiday. (Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-Ledger)
Grace Sabbagh, from Washington Township, and Jose Ortiz, from Philadelphia, enjoy the beach on the 4th of July holiday. (Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-Ledger)

The line for the women’s restroom stretched more than 30 deep, spilling across the boardwalk. On the sand, colorful beach umbrellas sprouted like mushrooms on an untreated lawn.

The barkers shouted to kids and couples, drawing them in to the water-gun challenge, the football throw, the fake frog toss.

In Seaside Heights, on an Independence Day that served as part summer celebration and part barometer of recovery, the hopeful signs could be seen across the reconstructed oceanfront.

Thousands of people converged on tiny Seaside today, and if the crowds weren’t as thick as they were before Hurricane Sandy sundered the borough last October, they were a signal that the community — and perhaps the greater Jersey Shore — was on its way back.

“It’s been a long time since you saw full parking lots in this town,” Art Ascoli, the boardwalk’s unofficial mayor, said as he gingerly threaded a golf cart through the crowds, greeting dozens of people by name and directing others to bathrooms.

Ascoli is director of Seaside’s ambassador program, created the year before Sandy hit to smooth the town’s image as a haven for drunken revelers. Today, he marvels at the progress Seaside Heights has made: 3,700 feet of new boardwalk, refinished or rebuilt shops, new benches, new lighting, replenished beaches and steady progress on the reconstruction of Casino Pier.

“We started from nothing,” Ascoli said. “And today you see people eating, drinking, spending money.”

Read the story a NJ.com (July 4, 2013)

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