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Shore businesses hope for strong summer amid Christie visit

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With the start of the summer tourist season just a month away, Gov. Chris Christie is heading to the Shore to hold a roundtable with local business owners that will likely focus on Hurricane Sandy.

Esther Cohen, who owns the Cedars and Beeches Bed and Breakfast, is one of a handful of local business people scheduled to attend the 2:30 p.m. event in Long Branch.

She said Hurricane Sandy is likely to be the focus of much of the discussion. In her case, Sandy was bad but not devastating. She’s not in a flood zone, so the main concern after Sandy was the lack of electricity, she said.

“It’s a little difficult for the small business,” she said. “But Long Branch by and large came through the storm well.”

That’s a message many local business people are hoping Christie will help convey.

“I think the biggest thing for a lot of small-business owners and restaurants on the Shore is getting the word out that while we did take a big hit, and in some cases people were devastated, we’re open now and that’s the big thing,” said Margaret Gilbertson, general manager at McLoone’s Pier House, which is hosting Christie’s roundtable.

The Pier House is part of McLoone’s Restaurants, which has nine locations in New Jersey and one in Maryland. Gilbertson said three of the restaurants were directly impacted by the storm, including her own restaurant, which was closed for 12 days. Tim McLoone’s Supper Club, in Asbury Park, was closed for about 40 days; and McLoone’s Rum Runner, in Sea Bright, remains closed.

With her own restaurant back up and running, Gilbertson said she’s hoping for a strong spring and summer, despite iffy weather for the first few weeks of spring.

“There’s a lot of businesses open and a lot of homes for rent,” she said. “We’re here and we’re really trying to get back what we lost.”

Christie has proposed using $25 million in federal aid money for a tourism promotion campaign to encourage regional tourists to visit the shore.

Cohen said she’s eager to learn more about that program. In addition to her New Jersey clientele, she gets visitors from Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut.

Cohen said she’s sold out for the first weekend in May, when Long Branch will host the New Jersey Marathon. She’s nearly sold out for Memorial Day.

She said a lot of her phone calls begin with a question about the status of her bed and breakfast, or the town itself.

“We’re open, operating and functioning,” she said. “We just need to let a lot more people know that so that they don’t have the overwhelming need to even ask the question first.”

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