Hurricane Sandy was the knockout blow that the Jersey Shore wasn't supposed to come back from. But the resilient Shore family on the city's famed boardwalk cleaned up in record time and invited visitors back this summer ... only to see much of their hard work destroyed by on Thursday by a devastating fire that incinerated more than 20 businesses.
"It's a nightmare, I feel really bad for everybody down there," said Danny Merk, owner of the iconic Shore Store. "They're f---ed, they're completely screwed." Calling from his home in Florida, Merk — the boss of the "Jersey Shore" staff when they lived in one of his rental properties during the series' run on MTV — said his store avoided any damage, but his neighbors weren't so lucky.
Shore Store owner, Danny Merk
"We suffered from the hurricane last year, but we didn't really get [impacted by] the fire," he said. "Those people down there lost everything." In particular, Merk said the beloved Three Brothers Pizza parlor sustained a lot of water damage, a huge set-back after the nearly year-long struggle to get back on their feet. "I feel so terrible for those guys," he said. "[The owner] is not a young kid ... and to do this again? Now he has to rip everything out and start all over again. Sandy was a nightmare and this was the worst summer in boardwalk history."
Merk said many of his fellow store owners were already living hand-to-mouth because of the sharp increase in "day-trippers" and loss of vacationers coming for extended stays. "I was optimistic for next year and everyone in town was," he said, reminding potential visitors that 80 percent of Seaside is up and running (including his store) and that they could really use the business. "We're all living for 2014."
The store's manager, Kenny Keelen, said the iconic T-shirt shop on the North side of the pier got lucky on Thursday, as most of the damage took place on the South end. "Right now we're okay," Keelen told MTV News on Friday (September 13). "We caught two little fires from the embers in the air and we were up on the roof for five hours with hoses trying to make sure nothing happened to us."
Keelen said at first it didn't seem like the fire was a big deal, but thanks to blustery winds it quickly got out of control, forcing him and the staff to close up shop and store their inventory to avoid any smoke or fire damage.
Merk said he got calls from a number of his famous former renters/employees , including Pauly D, Snooki and JWOWW, who all shared their shock and support with him and his family while also tweeting about their beloved summer home.
"I think it's a lot in one year and right now I'm kind of depressed," he said. Merk thought of his friend who owns the legendary Beachcomber bar — site of the infamous Snooki punch — and how he was the first one to battle back from Sandy and the first to open up in its wake. "People don't just leave this town and forget it ... It just seems like the only luck we have is bad luck."