Lucy the Elephant, the perennial symbol of the Jewish shore capital of Margate, New Jersey, is undergoing “a whole body lift,” as Rich Helfant, the executive director of Lucy, describes it.
Helfant’s nonprofit Save Lucy Committee is raising $2.1 million to replace “every single bit” of Lucy’s exterior skin. The project costs so much because the committee is using a metal alloy that takes a lot longer to rust.
With $1.2 million in grant money already in hand, Helfant only needs another $900,000 or so from Margate locals who care about their landmark. Lucy’s body is 80% renovated, according to the director. He just needs money for her head, the areas around her windows and the areas around her doors, among other spots.
The Margate resident estimates that Lucy will be as good as new by the end of August.
Or just in time to mark the conclusion of the town’s summer of renewal.
“As soon as they’re done, we’ll take the scaffolding down and people will see Lucy,” Helfant said of the attraction that dates to 1881, four years before Margate was even incorporated as a borough.
Before locals and visitors see the new Lucy this summer, though, they will see Margate again for perhaps the first time since the prepandemic days of 2019.
Beth El Synagogue on North Jerome Avenue is hosting two comedians in July and its golf tournament at Harbor Pines Golf Club in Egg Harbor Township in September. Performers and the tournament were regular features of the temple’s schedule before COVID, but not since, according to Rabbi Aaron Krauss.
In the summer of 2021, Beth El did bring back its weekly mahjong game. But “this year, we expect attendance to be increased,” Krauss said.
“It’s coming back,” he added. “It’s definitely coming back.”
The Shirat Hayam Congregation in neighboring Ventnor also is bringing back its in-person schedule for 2022.
Rabbi Jonathan Kremer said the synagogue is cosponsoring/hosting three different concerts over the summer. Two of them, including an open mic show later in the season, are new this year, while another, an outdoor party with vendors and games for kids, debuted in 2021.
At the same time, the temple will continue its “Devotion by the Ocean” Shabbat service series. Congregants sit on the beach while Kremer leads the service, and a band plays the music behind him.
The 15-year-old tradition was one of the few that Shirat Hayam continued during the pandemic since it was outside. Now, even as the pandemic fades, the tradition won’t.
“Basically, all summer we have a full schedule,” the rabbi said. “It’s gotten to the point where some people are concerned we’re offering too much.”
Krauss and Kremer both believe that in-person events are essential. As Kremer asked, what is community without them?
“People need people,” Krauss added.
Kremer estimates that upward of 200 people sometimes attend the “Devotion by the Ocean” services. He called praying and singing together while looking out at the ocean an “uplifting spiritual experience.”
But synagogue will not be the only place where locals can find that type of experience. According to Anna Maria Courter, the executive director of the Margate Business Association, things are happening all over town, most notably at the newly completed promenade along Amherst Avenue.
The wooden walkway, which runs parallel to the bay, was completed last spring, but “enhancements are ongoing,” Courter said. She called the 2022 season the first in which the promenade, with its sunset views, lights and outdoor seats, will be open in full.
As she described it, people can get breathtaking views, then find a place to eat dinner or dessert. Every dinner place along the promenade, from Sofia Restaurant to Maynard’s Café to Tomatoes, has embraced outdoor seating.
“It’s a newly reconfigured outdoor experience,” Courter said.
In addition to the promenade, several new businesses are hitting the Margate scene this year. Shop Sixty Five is a clothing store on Jerome Avenue with “all of the new fashions,” as Courter put it. Aneu is a kitchen, juicery and market with existing locations in Ocean City and Paoli.
And Tony Boloney’s, the well-known pizza brand with locations all over New Jersey, is turning its food truck attraction at the Margate Farmers Market into a summer-long spot behind Tomatoes on the promenade.
“It’s exciting,” Courter said.
Yet even what’s old in Margate is making an effort to become new this summer. The restaurants along Ventnor Avenue have added outdoor tables, according to Courter. And several bars/restaurants, Bocca Coal Fired Bistro, Ventura’s Greenhouse Restaurant, Robert’s Place and Maynard’s Café, are starting a Margate Cornhole League with 90 teams and 180 people.
Every Monday from 6:30-8:30 p.m., you play at a different location. Because why not make Monday night fun? Courter says there is a waiting list to join the league.
And the post-COVID spirit is not limited to Margate/Ventnor, either. Just south of Margate in Longport, neighboring restaurants Ozzie’s Luncheonette and Catch Restaurant & Bar got approval from borough officials to bring back the sidewalk dining tents that they used the past two summers.
In 2020, the restaurants needed the outdoor seating because they had to close their indoor dining areas, according to Lekie Nika, the owner of Ozzie’s. Last summer, they could only allow a small percentage to dine inside. This year, though, with indoor dining open in full, borough officials wanted to use the space for parking again, Nika said.
Yet in a choice between parking spots and outdoor seating, Longport residents chose seating. Three hundred people signed a petition asking for the tents to be allowed for a third straight summer.
Nika said the customer is right. The owners of the businesses wanted to give people the option of eating outside.
Last summer, two tents allowed the restaurants to open an additional 55 seats, according to Nika. She said she would do her best to maintain that capacity, or something close to it, in 2022, but labor shortages may make it difficult.
“People have gotten used to eating outside, and they like it,” she added. “Especially when you’re down at the shore. You want to be outside. You don’t want to be inside.”
The renovation of Lucy has faced similar issues, like a labor strike, a disrupted supply chain and a broken sprinkler pipe, all of which prevented the committee from hitting its original beginning-of-summer target for completion.
Yet Helfant pledges to finish the project no matter how long it takes. He grew up in Margate playing miniature golf and hanging out at Lucy, he said. So he promises that the elephant attraction will look “like you remember her but everything will be new.”
“She was such an important part of the development of the South Jersey shore,” he explained. “And she’s the only thing like it on Earth. How many six-story giant elephants are there?” JE