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A month after Hurricane Sandy pounded the New Jersey shore, Atlantic City is back in business. There had been an impression that the city was hit hard by the storm. In fact, the famous boardwalk and the casinos and restaurants suffered little damage. They're now suffering, though, from a lack of visitors. Here's NPR's David Schaper.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Three young boys roll on their skateboards down the world-famous Atlantic City boardwalk, proof that it is still here, fully intact, and that rumors of its demise were greatly exaggerated.
ED CODY: Condition's are a lot better than I thought it would be down here, you know.
SCHAPER: Ed Cody drove here from Philadelphia with his fiance Cheryl Lyons for a quick, midweek getaway.
CODY: What I heard during the storm over there was just like the boardwalk was all torn up and the sand was in the street and...
CHERYL LYONS: The pictures on the TV made it look worse.
SCHAPER: Sandy's high winds and floodwaters did devastate scores of homes and businesses in Atlantic City, especially around the Back Bay areas. But along the ocean front, a dune restoration project protected most of the boardwalk and the shops, restaurants, casinos and hotels on it. Sandy did damage one small section of the boardwalk, but city and tourism officials complain that TV news showed those images over and over again, giving viewers the impression that the entire boardwalk was destroyed. So they're fighting back.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SCHAPER: This new TV ad, which is airing in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington shows people biking and jogging on the boardwalk, along with scenes of Atlantic City's night life. Liza Cartmell is president of the Atlantic City Alliance, which is sponsoring the ad.
LIZA CARTMELL: Well, I think the message here is that, A, we're open for business. We're in great shape physically. And, quite honestly, we need your help.
SCHAPER: The Atlantic City Alliance was created a year ago as the marketing arm of the casino industry here. Competition from new casinos in nearby states had already begun to cut into business. And a severe slowdown since Sandy has led to layoffs and reduced hours for many workers. So Cartmell says Atlantic City urgently needs an economic boost.
CARTMELL: We have 40,000 people whose livelihoods depend on these casinos. They are the ones who were impacted at home, where their homes may have been flooded. They need their jobs and their income in order to be able to rebuild.
(SOUNDBITE OF SLOT MACHINE RINGING)
SCHAPER: Inside the Tropicana casino, there's actually a fair number of people for a midweek December afternoon, playing slot machines, blackjack and other games. Tony Rodio, president and CEO of the Tropicana, says business is picking up now after a very slow November. But he worries about Sandy's long-term impact on his customer base up and down the Atlantic coast.
TONY RODIO: There's people whose lives have been impacted by this. And it's not going to take weeks or months. It's going to take years for people who have homes that were totally destroyed, or second homes or businesses. And there's a ripple effect to that.
SCHAPER: And that ripple effect doesn't just go through the big casinos, but inside of the small, kitschy shops along the boardwalk, as well.
YAQOB ABRO: Hi. How are you?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I'm good.
SCHAPER: Yaqob Abro greets a lone shopper who walks into his souvenir shop on the boardwalk. And she's got her eye on a certain purse.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: How much is it?
ABRO: This is 15 dollar.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Oh.
ABRO: But you are my first customer all day. I'll take 13 dollar.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I can't do it, but thank you.
ABRO: You're welcome.
SCHAPER: And so it goes at Jay's Souvenir Shop, where Abro says he's hardly selling anything.
ABRO: So today, like, I open at 11 o'clock, now it's almost 4 o'clock. I got only one customer, 15 dollar. And last night, I was here up to 5 o'clock. I make only 25 dollar. Can you imagine?
SCHAPER: Abro says it costs him more to commute and keep the lights on than he's making in sales most days. And he says if this slow pace continues, he might not be able to make it to the more profitable months of spring and summer.
David Schaper, NPR News, Atlantic City.
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