FILE - In this Oct. 31, 2012 file photo, the Seaside Heights boardwalk is heavily damaged after Superstorm Sandy moved through the area. The iconic boardwalk where generations of families and teens got their first taste of the Jersey Shore and where the reality show of the same name was filmed is being rebuilt following its destruction in Superstorm Sandy. Seaside Heights on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 awarded a $3.6 million contract to have the boardwalk rebuilt in time for Memorial Day weekend. (AP Photo/The Star-Ledger, David Gard, Pool, File)
SEASIDE HEIGHTS, NEW JERSEY - A young woman on a beach-cruiser bicycle is rolling down the rebuilt boardwalk in Seaside Heights, past reopened arcades and pizza places and t-shirt shops selling "Stronger Than The Storm" merchandise. It feels almost like just another lazy, glorious summer on the Jersey Shore.
At least if you can block out the construction noise.
Many beachfront communities are busy rebuilding after the devastation wrought nearly nine months ago by Sandy, which obliterated homes, boardwalks and businesses in New York and New Jersey. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie and other officials have used public appearances and a $25 million ad campaign to try to convince tourists to return to the 127-mile-long Shore, which is responsible for about half the state's roughly $40 billion tourism industry. They've been able to laud the results of a feverish rebuilding process that has helped return many areas to relative normalcy more quickly than many thought possible.
But the reality is this: There's still a lot of work to be done. Cranes towered over the white-sand beaches here as workers tried to get carnival rides open for the first time all summer ahead of 4th of July weekend. The return of the rides, longtime boardwalk worker Joseph Pirone hopes, will give a boost to a summer that has so far been "a little slower" than usual.
On the boardwalk, there are those who deem the season a disappointment.
"This summer I feel like there's not as many people, it's not as fun," said Nikki Hoff. "I feel like it has been better in the past years."
But most people indicated that, in the words of Rayann Selser, "the Shore is amazing no matter if there's a construction site or not."
"The Shore will always be the Shore, no matter where you are. It's just who you come with," added her friend Briana Dailey.
Jaclyn Hardy grew up spending her summers on the Jersey Shore; she pointed to her kids and said they've been disappointed not to be able to go on rides so far this year. But, she added, she is determined to make this summer "better than ever" - and is spending more time on the Shore than usual this year in an effort to support rebuilding businesses.
"It's New Jersey," she said. "We all stick together. We're strong."
Down the road in Lavallette, which was partially protected by a dune system, the boardwalk has been completely rebuilt. Mayor Walter LaCicero said that it has been hard to convince renters to come to town despite the fact that the community has largely recovered. Sales of badges to enter the beach, he said, are down 30-35 percent.
"As far as the season itself is concerned, we're definitely not as good as it was last year," he said. "...We're hoping that August is going to be better than July. There is some fear on the part of the visitors fear to come down at this point I think."
Seaside Heights and Lavallette are relative bright spots. Down the road in the towns of Ortley Beach and Mantoloking, which had no dune protection, streets remain closed as devastated homes stand waiting to be demolished. A destroyed washing machine can be seen underneath one teetering house, partially holding it up.
But though Sandy has brought heartache, said Lavallette city council president Anita Zalom, it has also meant the chance to rebuild better.
"Some projects we might never have done we will do because we got a little bit extra money from Sandy," she said. "...So thank you Sandy for some of the wonderful things you have brought. I know you've brought some sadness and some destruction, but you've brought some good things too."
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