Business as usual — maybe better

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Ahoy again from the Wildwoods, where another season stretches happily off into the summer like the famous Boardwalk itself.

And, on the Boards and in town, there is the usual early-season optimism, despite the overcast economy. My friends Wes and Brian sprung for a cool new $2,000 "Play Ball" sign over their three game booths — one more than last year.

Next door, Michelle and her partner, Rotem, have expanded their high-end variety store, Boardwalk’s Best, by an entire booth. A little further south, a new Subway is under way and, when I asked the workers next door what they were building, the boss man grinned and answered, "A T-shirt store — what else?" There is a new Walgreen’s going up behind the McDonald’s on Rio Grande Avenue. It’s being picketed by the carpenters’ union and seems to me to be in a screwy location with a CVS right across the street. All these folks are literally putting their money where their mouths are in betting the pull of the Jersey Shore will outweigh the drag of the economy.

In North Wildwood, the Boardwalk is dotted with spiffy, new royal blue benches that cost in the neighborhood of $900 apiece, I’m told from a good source. Matching new blue lines have been painted to mark the tram-car lanes that run the length of the Boardwalk.

At the end of Rio Grande, the beach balls on the wonderful Wildwoods sign are getting a paint job. The workers told me the sun, salt and rain peeled the original paint like sea grapes.

In town, the late, lamented Russo’s Restaurant on Park Boulevard has been pulled down and workers are going gangbusters erecting a hot, new, bedecked eatery. The man behind the plan is Chuck Burns, former owner of the Anglesea Pub in North Wildwood, who was planning on a comfy retirement until his wife told him otherwise. Maybe Chuck will call the new place "Get Out of the House."

Judging by the crowd that turned out for South Philly legend Jerry "The Geator" Blavat’s dance party during the recent Sixties Weekend, nobody’s staying away. I said to my pal Bobalew at one point I can tell Philly line-dancers anywhere in the world for two reasons: They’re fantastic with their own Philly style, and they are as serious as archbishops out on the floor, like the fate of Western civilization hangs on each step.

So things look pretty good to me for the season down here. To check out my observations, though, I e-mailed two people whose opinions I value.

Patrick Rosenello is managing director of the Wildwood Business Improvement District and president of the North Wildwood City Council and I think he’ll be moving pretty high up the political ladder when all is said and done.

"From what we have seen in the Wildwoods on New Year’s Eve, St. Patrick’s Day weekend and the April Heat Wave weekend, the national economic woes seem to be helping the Wildwoods. Reservations in the lodging industry, as well as pre-season sales in the amusement industry, are all strong," he said.

"The ad campaign that the Convention Authority is promoting is also a big hit. ‘Are you free this summer? Wildwood is!,’ really says it all. With free beaches, a free Boardwalk, a long list of free events and enough lodging, dining and entertainment options for any budget, the Wildwoods really seem to be the ideal place for a summer vacation during these uncertain economic times."

Dorothy Kulisek, editor and publisher of the island’s favorite paper, The Wildwood Sun-By-the-Sea, said, "I spoke with an old-time Wildwood native this past winter and he said that during his lifetime — 80 years — he has never seen Wildwood feel the brunt of a recession because we have a unique economy here.

"I am closely connected with local merchants because of the paper and last year several of my advertisers had one of their best summers and we were already technically in a recession. One Boardwalk merchant said he was already ahead in numbers for the first quarter this year.

"My take on the summer economy is that a summer vacation is much like Christmas in that no matter how bad things may be, people will always find a way to make it happen."

Right on, Dorothy! Right on, Wildwood!

Tom Cardella’s column will return next week.