Tangerine Boutique opened its doors in 2003, just three blocks from the ocean in Bay Head, NJ.
When you hear the phrase, “experience a slice of Tangerine,” that could mean anything from classic, comfortable women’s fashions to trendy party dresses, along with shoes, handbags, jewelry, accessories and everything you need for a day at the beach.
Originally from Delaware, Tangerine Boutique owner Diane Courtney loved the idea of opening a small shop in a charming, seaside community like Bay Head.
Three years after graduating from Drexel University, that idea was brought to life. On October 29, 2012, the resolve of Diane and other Jersey Shore business owners was challenged like never before by Hurricane Sandy.
Question: Explain what kind of loss and damage your business experienced as a result of Hurricane Sandy, and what went through your mind when you walked into the store for the first time after the storm.
There was furniture that had been moved in front of the doorway, so my husband had to get it out of the way before we could even get into the store. That wasn’t a good sign. When I first walked in, it was complete shock. It was more destruction than I could have ever imagined. It took me a couple days to really get moving, working and figuring things out.
The water had receded but the water stains showed it was almost four feet high. There was mud all over the floor. Things were toppled over. We made sure all merchandise was a few feet off the floor, but that obviously wasn’t safe enough.
The loss of merchandise was huge. I was completely stocked with no more shipments through Christmas, so I was at full capacity and ready for the holiday season. Not only merchandise, but furniture and display cases that I had collected during almost 10 years in business were destroyed. It’s unbelievable how much stuff I had to throw away. It was a major shock.
I never dreamed I could ever have that much water in my store.
Question: What have you done so far to rebuild and what steps do you plan to take next?
Honestly, my store has actually moved along very quickly. I was at a business meeting and people said my store is like a ray of sunshine because we already have drywall in there. We’ve been able to dry out the store and clear out the damaged drywall with the help of volunteers.
A crew from North Carolina showed up out of the blue one day and said, “We’re here to help.” It kind of kicked my butt into gear because I was moving very slowly. Then I had this crew come out of nowhere, ripping out drywall and taking furniture out to the street. What they did in three hours would have taken us at least a week or two. I can’t thank them enough.
They really helped me get things moving. My landlord is on top of things and already has a contractor in there working. We’ve actually started painting already. I was hoping to reopen by spring, and now my target date is December 1.
The only thing holding us back right now is the National Guard blocking off Bay Head because it’s just not safe yet for people to come in and out. They’re still cleaning out debris, doing inspections and determining whether or not the area is safe. If it is, we should be able to open December 1.
Question: What do you see as the biggest challenge to overcome before you can say things are back to normal – or, will things every truly be “normal” again?
The first challenge is making sure the area is safe. The next challenge is getting people to come back to these shore towns and shop local. I know we have a great following and our customers will come back, but we need more than our regulars to survive. People may think the beaches are gone and the businesses are gone. Are people going to still visit the shore? I believe they will. But people might be nervous about coming to Bay Head, at least right away. We just don’t know.
The hurdle between now and when things hopefully do get back to normal is how to recoup my loss. I have to look at other avenues instead of just opening my doors in Bay Head. When I thought we might not be open until spring, I was thinking about how I’m going to survive until then, whether it meant a temporary location, home parties, holiday events, any kind of events.
We’re already planning those kinds of events to fill some gaps. A lot of the merchandise I’ll be selling is damaged, so I’ll still be losing money on it. I can make money off some of my merchandise, but even if that goes well, I still have to figure out how to bring in extra income because we really don’t know what the future holds, short-term and long-term.
Question: From a business standpoint, is there any lesson that you can take away from this experience?
(laughing) Well, I know I would definitely clean out the store completely if a storm like this is ever forecast again. On the positive side, I feel like I’m more connected with my customers than ever. I emailed everyone on our list and kept in contact as much as we could through Facebook. The number of responses we received was overwhelming. Everybody is checking in to make sure we’re okay. Our customers really care about us, and those relationships are even stronger now.
As far as business operations, don’t just buy insurance, and make sure you know what you’re paying for. I’m not going to get any insurance money because I didn’t have flood insurance. I can’t get in touch with my insurance agent and that’s been a pretty common story around here. Everybody’s having a hard time getting any kind of claim filled. At this point, I still don’t know what’s covered. This has been a tough learning experience.
Question: What is the state of the business community in Bay Head and surrounding areas?
I have to say the morale has been amazing. The local business association got together the other night, and we kind of went around the room so everybody could tell their own story. There were a lot of tears. Some businesses are in worse shape than others. But everybody said, “We’re coming back and we’re gonna be stronger than ever.” There’s no doubt about that. The camaraderie was amazing and we’ve all gotten so much closer.
We all recognize there’s a ton of work to do. We see it every day. The mounds of trash in front of businesses and houses are unbelievable. There are 60 homes in the water in Mantoloking, and another 157 need to be knocked down. That part of it is really sad.
The amount of humanity – inside the business community and from others who want to help – has been incredible. People have really come together to help each other.
Please support Tangerine Boutique and other local businesses as they continue on the long road back from disaster.