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Family Digs Deep Into Life Savings to Rebuild Business After Hurricane Sandy

Kevin Chupka
Executive Producer/Writer

It's been one year since Superstorm Sandy slammed into the Northeast coast causing upwards of $60 billion in damage, making this the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history behind Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Even on the first anniversary, many victims are dealing with the mess it left behind.

Bill and Jo Ann Petruzel of Wall, New Jersey sustained minimal damage to their home, but their business, Barnacle Bill's mini golf course, arcade and restaurant in Ortley Beach was decimated.

"It was so shocking that it was actually numbing," Jo Ann told Yahoo. "Ya know it was almost like seeing something on TV somewhere else."

Her husband Bill says their establishment was unrecognizable the first time they came to inspect the damage.

Bill's father opened Barnacle Bill's in 1963 and it has been a staple for families vacationing at the Jersey Shore ever since.

"My father opened up the golf course mainly probably to keep his teenage kids busy," Bill says, "and we evolved through the years. We added the arcade and restaurant in the '60s later on. The giant came here in 1967. He’s kind of been our icon here."

Like so many along the Jersey Shore, after Sandy hit Bill and Jo Ann found little in the way of financial aid to help them with a rebuild that will end up costing around $1.5 million.

"We got very, very little from FEMA and our other two policies have denied us," Jo Ann told us. "All these years you pay and pay and pay and they find reasons not to return and help you when you need it."

Faced with the prospect of having to close Barnacle Bill's for good, the Petruzel's decided to fund the repairs themselves. "We used some of our retirement fund," says Bill, "and our house that we had paid off...we totally refinanced." They demolished what was left of the golf course, hired a designer, and rebuilt from scratch.

Then on July 31st, the 50th anniversary of Barnacle Bill's, the course's iconic giant, which floated in seven feet of water during the storm, got his putter back. Bill and Jo Ann were open for business again.

"People that came up were just so positive and thankful and just so nice, it was just overwhelming," Bill says.

"It was really a very happy summer," adds Jo Ann. "We were happy to be open, they were happy to have us open."

There's still a long way to go for Barnacle Bill's and the town of Ortley Beach. Only a third of the town's beaches were open last summer as demolition crews repaired damage. Beach badge revenue, a key indicator to the success of a summer season, totaled $180,000 compared to an estimated $600,000 in 2012.

Until towns like Ortley Beach are full of open beaches, repaired homes and thriving businesses, places like Barnacle Bill's may continue to struggle. "I really feel this has been like a little oasis in a town that still does not look good," Jo Ann says.

As if Sandy didn't deal a big enough blow to the Jersey Shore, on September 12th a six alarm fire engulfed the popular Seaside Heights boardwalk leveling about 50 businesses. Barnacle Bill's was luckily left untouched. It's a town away but the fire was the last thing the recovering region needed to deal with.

Back at Barnacle Bill's, even as work continues on the arcade and restaurant, the Petruzel's are optimistic.

"We got through the little short season we had this year," Bill says. "It’ll double next year and keep doing that for a while until we get back to normal."

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