Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno liked it when Point Beach shop owner Marla Lengle walked up to greet her at her store, but she liked it even better when she walked away.
That's because Lengle walked away to make a sale at her women's clothing store, Lola's Boutique, on Bay Avenue in Point Beach.
"I have to go take money," said Lengle, rushing off, to ring up a customer waiting at the cash register.
"Great, great," Guadagno said, laughing, as Lengle strode away.
Helping businesses in Point Beach and throughout the Sandy-battered Jersey Shore to make money was at the crux of Guadagno's visit to the downtown shopping area on Tuesday afternoon.
So every time customers came into the store, and especially when they ponied up for a new blouse, jacket or piece of jewelry, New Jersey's second in command was delighted.
Guadagno was greeted at the store by Mayor Vincent Barrella who told her that what will really help local businesses is to get the year-round residents back in their Sandy-flooded homes east of the railroad tracks and to get the part-time residents convinced that Point Beach is going to be open for business this summer.
Barrella said the boardwalk and businesses will be ready for Memorial Day weekend and invited Guadagno to cut the ribbon on what will be the new boardwalk at the start of Memorial Day weekend.
"Oh, we'll be here for more than the ribbon cutting, you'll be sick of us, mayor," Guadagno said, laughing and nudging his shoulder.
"How is the boardwalk?" she asked.
"We're ahead of Belmar," he said, smiling.
"Oh, you are ahead of Belmar," she replied, smiling back. "That's good, competition is good."
Getting back to the topic of residents and taxpayers, Barrella said he's concerned that property owners who live year-round elsewhere may not believe the Beach is on its way back.
"If a resident of Bergen County who owns a home here, thinks we won't be open this summer, they may not fix up their house," Barrella told her, in the middle of the store, surrounded by the owners, employees, Guadagno's state police and staff entourage, other business people and the media snapping photos and scrawling notes.
"We can help you notify them," Guadagno said. "Give us a list, you can write the letter, we'll send it out."
Barrella told her that the town already has a committee of non-resident taxpayers and a data bank of at least 500 email addresses of non-resident property owners that he can make available to her office, and that the town can make additional addresses available, drawing from their tax records.
"Great, give those to us, we can do that, that helps everybody," she said.
The idea would be to email non-resident taxpayers whose email addresses are available and to send letters through the postal system to other non-residents.
The state can also help businesses through its Business Action Center, led by Donald Newman, who was also at Lola's. (For more information about the center, see attached PDF or call (866) 534-7789.)
"Don is the person to call," Gaudagno said to Lengle, her co-owner, Carolyn Freeman and other business owners who had walked in from their businesses on Bay Avenue, including Sarah's Kiddles next door.
She said Newman can help businesses get answers and cut through red tape in their efforts to renovate, attract business, hopefully receive grants and get back on track.
Freeman and Lengle opened the store nine years ago, had no power for about eight or nine days after Sandy, and then re-opened about 10 days after the storm.
"We had a few shingles down, but we were very lucky," Lengle told Guadagno, just after showing her some of the latest fashions that were new arrivals.
"How has business been, how was Christmas?" Guadagno asked.
"Not good until Black Friday weekend, that was great, then it got slower and then it got great just before Christmas," said Lengle, a Howell resident. "There were residents who had been flooded out of their homes, who couldn't go back, who came here to shop. They said, 'This is our town and we want to shop here.' "
Lengle and other business owners said January has been slow, even slower than it is most years.
Guadagno asked Donica Storino, wife of Vincent Storino, one of the owners of Jenkinson's and Casino Pier, how Jenkinson's is faring.
"It's coming along," Storino replied. "The septic system is filled with sand, there's a lot to do, but we have a great crew and they're working hard."
Guadagno said that just after the storm, she had a state trooper call Jenkinson's to see if the animals in the aquarium were OK.
"When we heard you had no gas, we were worried about the animals, so we had a trooper call," she said. The animals were OK.
Storino had come to the shop to talk to Guadagno at the invitation of Lengle, who described Storino as her "best friend."
Guadagno said that state grants will hopefully be available soon for businesses struggling to come back full strength and encouraged the business owners gathered in the shop to keep in touch with Newman to get the updated information.
When asked why Point Beach was the town she picked to visit on Tuesday, Guadagno said, "Because this is one of the towns where the mayor has asked us to come and help show people the good section of town, to show that it's open for business. We've done several towns, including Belmar and Bradley Beach, where the governor visited, the governor will be in Manahawkin tomorrow and we'll continue."
It wasn't quite clear why Lola's was picked for Guadagno's stop. She and Newman didn't know.
"It may have been a combination of information from the Chamber of Commerce and our own marketing team," Guadagno said, indicating she was there because her staff asked her to be and included it on her daily schedule.
But before Guadagno had even arrived at Lola's, Lengle, a member of the Point Beach Chamber of Commerce Directors, was quick with an answer when asked why the state's second highest head honcho was making a stop at her store.
"Because we're awesome!" she replied.