Getting Back to Normal on the Jersey Shore

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- With just one month left in the first post-Sandy summer, life is seemingly back to normal on Long Beach Island, an 18-mile skinny strip of sand that has been a family refuge for generations.

Although "seemingly" is the operative word here, overall, the island's recovery has been amazing. The parade of construction trucks is now dwarfed by the regular summer traffic, but there is still plenty of construction going on. The whir of saw, and pop of nail guns are sounds blending in with the calls of the gulls and sounds of motorboats.

If you were not aware that Hurricane Sandy had ravaged this island nearly 10 months ago - flooding thousands of homes as the bay and ocean met, pushing some off of their foundations and leaving mounds of debris everywhere -- you could not tell that anything had happened, unless you looked very closely. Some homes remain vacant, but from the outside appear to be fine.

What's happening on the inside, however, is anyone's guess. If a tear-out was not done soon after the flood, mold has likely taken over, and such homes will likely be razed. On our street alone I'd estimate that about 10% of the homes are not occupied this summer. It's worse in some areas of the island, better in others.

The other day another home close to and similar to ours was demolished in quick fashion. If you don't see it while it is happening, you will ultimately notice empty lots where homes once stood. Sometimes it is a struggle to even remember what actually stood on these empty lots.

While it is sad to see the older homes continuing to disappear, either due to the storm, or more likely due to new owners knocking down existing structures and building new, there is plenty to be thankful for this summer.

The fact that the island is functioning somewhat normally is, to me, a miracle in and of itself. To see families enjoying the beach, the ocean, the bays, eating at our local restaurants was unthinkable to me after the storm hit. I originally foresaw a stripped-down summer with few renters, or open businesses, many remaining piles of debris, and battered beaches.

Instead, all of the debris is gone; the beaches and dunes have been replenished in some areas, and these are beautiful. While some businesses have not re-opened, and are for sale, the number in operation and serving customers this summer is astounding.

Yet, challenges remain. It appears as though overall business is down this summer, which is not surprising. My theory is there are fewer renters due primarily to the fact that there are fewer homes available. Renters tend to be bigger spenders at certain local businesses than residents, so it only makes sense. We also seem to be heavier on the day-trippers this year, which is also not great for business.

The island is also still dealing with the inability to replenish more of its beaches and all important dunes, due to the unwillingness of some beachfront homeowners to sign the required easements. You can literally walk from a wide, replenished beach, with huge dunes, to one where there is little or no beach left in five minutes.

Few would argue the fact that areas where beaches were replenished weathered Sandy much better than those that were not. While I don't expect another Sandy to hit in my lifetime, perhaps naively so, the possibility certainly remains, and the island is not as well protected as it could be. Just months ago, on my hundredth or so run to procure more supplies to rebuild our cottage, I saw a group of folks headed to the beach, without a care in the world. My first thought was along the lines of, "How dare they enjoy our island, while many of us are still rebuilding, after months of effort." I quickly realized how ridiculously stupid that sentiment was, and laugh about it now.

We are so fortunate to be where we are at this point with other areas of the Jersey shore still suffering. This past Sunday, was the first day that we did not work on the cottage, spending the entire day at the beach. I never thought that day would come.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Jonathan Heller, CFA, is president of KEJ Financial Advisors, his fee-only financial planning company. Jon spent 17 years at Bloomberg Financial Markets in various roles, from 1989 until 2005. He ran Bloomberg's Equity Fundamental Research Department from 1994 until 1998, when he assumed responsibility for Bloomberg's Equity Data Research Department. In 2001, he joined Bloomberg's Publishing group as senior markets editor and writer for Bloomberg Personal Finance Magazine, and an associate editor and contributor for Bloomberg Markets Magazine. In 2005, he joined SEI Investments as director of investment communications within SEI's Investment Management Unit.

Jon is also the founder of the Cheap Stocks Web site, a site dedicated to deep-value investing. He has an undergraduate degree from Grove City College and an MBA from Rider University, where he has also served on the adjunct faculty; he is also a CFA charter holder.