News Column

Jersey Shore Entrepreneur Waits, Worries After Sandy

Oct. 31, 2012

Diane Mastrull

Just a few months ago, with the summer season well under way and lines of customers at her self-serve frozen yogurt machines, pediatrician Bonnie Offit was reveling in her decision to quit the practice of medicine and open Bonnie's Toppings stores in three Jersey Shore towns.

Her entrepreneurial enthusiasm on Tuesday morning had turned to mostly depression.

From her hurricane-unscathed home in Bala Cynwyd, Offit viewed with dread picture galleries on Facebook of high water and other storm damage Sandy had wrought some 85 miles away in Avalon, Cape May and Stone Harbor.

What none showed was how Offit's yogurt shops fared. With evacuation orders by Gov. Christie still in effect, Offit didn't expect to be able to assess damage to her businesses before week's end.

"That's the hard part," she said. "I have no idea."

Offit, 50, had practiced medicine for 22 years before opening her yogurt stores over the course of a year. Buying a family home in Avalon four years ago triggered it, coupled with the mother of two's passion for the Shore's sunrises and sunsets and soothing sounds of ocean waves.

What those waves -- plus as much as 8 inches of rain and wind gusts over 70 mph -- might have done to Offit's stores had her first thinking "biblically," she said, as in, "What have I done that was so horrible?"

Then came: "I've spent this unbelievable time and effort putting these businesses together and I could lose everything in one storm."

Said David Fiorenza, a Villanova University economics professor and specialist in small towns: "She picked three great locations. They're three vibrant towns."

She and any Sandy-savaged small businesses should resist the temptation to give up, he said, noting that such extreme weather events are rare. Instead, Offit should be pressing town officials to pursue all available federal, state and local aid, Fiorenza said.

While she awaits details on the condition of her stores, Offit is certain of one thing. The one in Cape May, the only one not yet shuttered for the season and slated to remain open until the first week in November, is "definitely closed for the season now."

Source: (c)2012 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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