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Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the summer travel season, and this summer is especially important for many resort communities along the Jersey Shore. As New Jersey Public Radio's Scott Gurian reports, they're counting on the next few months to help recoup some of their losses from Superstorm Sandy.
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SCOTT GURIAN, BYLINE: It's taken several months - and more than a million dollars - to repair the flooded aquarium, rebuild the miniature golf courses, and replace the damaged planks along Jenkinson's Boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach. Even earlier this week, contractors were still busy doing some final cosmetic repairs, in preparation for this holiday weekend. But the occasional sounds of saws and hammers didn't seem to deter the steady stream of visitors who've begun arriving.
Jenkinson's marketing director, Toby Wolf, says they've been pleasantly surprised by how great the boardwalk looks.
TOBY WOLF: A lot of us are kind of, you know, along the hopes of - you know, there's going to be like, a renewed appreciation for the Jersey Shore; people will want to come down and support the local businesses, local economy. There is still a concern that there's a misconception that the Jersey Shore was completely wiped out. There certainly was a lot of devastation and, you know, homeowners in particular, a lot of them still have a long road ahead of them. But as far as the restaurants and the boardwalks and the attractions, you know, we really made sure that we're ready to go.
GURIAN: That message - that the Jersey Shore is open for business - is something you hear up and down the coast these days. The state plans to spend $25 million of federal recovery money on an ad campaign to lure people back. At stake are tens of thousands of seasonal jobs and a $19 billion tourism industry, which accounts for more than half of New Jersey's total tourist revenue.
GURIAN: In Asbury Park, Mayor Ed Johnson says the city simply couldn't afford to wait for insurance money and federal aid to arrive. So it's gone $10 million in debt, to pay for repairs to its waterfront in hopes of being reimbursed at a later date - all this, he says, to have everything ready.
MAYOR ED JOHNSON: We're a mom and pop business community. We're not talking about Macy's and Targets and Wal-Marts here. We're talking about people that cashed in their savings, mortgages, pension plans to open up their businesses. So being open this summer, this is our bread-and-butter season. We knew that we needed to start with ourselves, and get this up and running.
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GURIAN: Down in Belmar, crews raced to finish pouring concrete curbs and sidewalks just in time for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly rebuilt boardwalk. But beach-goers like Nada Benkabbou, and her friend Jada Sherman(ph), hardly seemed to notice the construction taking place around them. They were more focused on working on their tans for the prom.
NADA BENKABBOU: We - honestly - used to be here every single day, in the summertime. This is like, the favorite place to go. And I just thought I'd come visit, see how it's doing; restore the shore, you know.
JADA SHERMAN: We love you, Jersey. Stay strong; we're getting there. We're going to fix it.
GURIAN: In a recent AAA survey, nearly 80 percent of New Jersey and Philadelphia-area residents said that Sandy has not affected their summer travel plans, and most say they'll spend the same amount of time at the Jersey Shore as in previous years. Business owners from Sea Bright to Cape May are hoping that a strong turnout this weekend signals the first step in helping them get back on their feet.
For NPR News, I'm Scott Gurian.
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