In this day and age, we KIT in 140-character increments and speak in #hashtags. We mistake what happens on Facebook for what happens in real life. Gratification just isn't gratifying unless it's instant. iPhoneography is a thing. And worst of all, “Snooki” yields over 16.3 million Google results.
It’s hard to imagine that there are places where crazy, old-fashioned stuff like skee ball and greasy, cat-sized pizza slices are still cherished. In spite of Snooki, the Jersey Shore is one of those places. New Jersey has a richly déclassé reputation. Apparently, it’s our lot in life. But people go on mini-golf dates and ride their bikes to bars. We catch our dinners on lines. We know what our neighbors’ names are and what they have been doing — and not because we spy on them with telescopes, but because they tell us. Over coffee. Face to face.
So it kind of makes sense that taffy-loving Long Beach Island has created a memorabilia-inspired postcard campaign to make sure that the hordes of tourists who annually flock to the barrier island don't neglect it this year in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
The idea began with local surfer and ESM Assignment Writer Jon Coen and his photographer wife, Ann. Jon says respectfully that the “powers that be” on LBI aren’t accustomed to marketing their home — they’ve never had to before. As a result, they haven’t done much to spread the word that the island is open for business post-Sandy. Other communities have gone as far as securing prominent billboards and television commercials, but the state of LBI remains a mystery to much of the outside world.
“LBI is stuck on Jimmy Buffett,” Coen says. “And not the progressive, environmentalist Jimmy Buffett — the ‘Cheeseburger In Paradise’ Jimmy Buffett. That’s the entertainment here; there’s nothing really hip. But what we do have is what might be the coolest place in New Jersey as far as longboarding in the summer and going crabbing. LBI doesn’t like change, and people like it for that reason.”
At the same time, the ultra laid-back pace can be frustrating. After Sandy, the towns along LBI were overwhelmed and people knew they had to step up. Local apparel company Jetty teamed up with Waves For Water to form the Jetty + Waves For Water LBI Outreach program, which has so far donated a staggering $210,000 to relief and clean-up efforts. Mold was remediated, houses were rebuilt, and the community spirit of LBI was only strengthened. “The Jetty Sandy Relief Project is much bigger than just Jetty and our eight employees,” says company co-owner Jeremy DeFilippis. “We rallied the community with guidance from Jon Rose in a time when there was no blueprint. We just brought the ‘doers’ in our community together — mostly surfers and business owners — and hit the ground running. We haven’t stopped.”
But Coen realized that something had to be done for the near future, so he rustled up photos from his lovely lady, Ann, and fellow ESM contributor, Kyle Gronostajski, and sent them to Jersey-bred, California-based graphic designer Nick Zegel, who works in the surf industry. Jetty financed the initial printing of about 1,100 postcards, which were distributed in packs of 10 at Jetty and Waves For Water's recent East Coast Rising fundraiser. An additional 25,000 postcards have since been ordered and are available for free to all LBI residents and visitors. The idea is to send them to New York, Philly, Ohio, and Amsterdam — anywhere, really — inviting people to visit. Hopefully, come summer, the campaign will turn over a profit.
“The Jetty + Waves FOR Water LBI Outreach thinks progressively,” Coen says. “Ironically, the postcard idea is very 1953. And that’s cool. In a digital world, anything old school that you can hold and looks good might get noticed. But the idea is for it to be viral by nature, to get attention [from] outside of our area.”
Local realtors are also on board, opting to send postcards instead of their usual direct mail. “You get an ad in the mail, and you’re like, ‘trash,’” Coen says. “But if you get something that doesn’t look like an ad, like this beautiful piece of artwork, you’re like, ‘Oh, what is this? Oh, LBI. LBI’s open!’ And we need people coming here instead of planning their trips to the Outer Banks or the Pocono Mountains because everything [here] hinges on three months. After September, there’s no money to be made here.”
DeFilippis says that the Coens, although naturally averse to attention, deserve it for the postcard effort. “Jon and Ann worked hard to put the brilliantly and beautifully done postcards together,” he says. “[They] are Jetty family and have been heavily involved in our relief efforts. So it came from within. Jetty would not even have a brand if it weren't for LBI. I love this area and have lived here for 33 years, have made it a home for my business, and will do anything it takes to keep it busy and vibrant.”
Despite what people may (or may not) have seen on the news, LBI is still here. Sadly, the same can’t be said for all Jersey Shore towns, which are in varying stages of rebuilding — and varying stages of determining how to brand those recovery efforts to the world. But Long Beach Island features more businesses opening daily — businesses that are counting on hosting their usual patrons this summer.
As a New Jersey local, I can agree that what Shore communities need now is not catastrophe sightseers but what's always kept us alive: shoppers, beachgoers, bar goers, weekenders… Basically, a stimulated economy. On LBI, they're saying, “We wish you were here” — and sending postcards to prove it.