Rebuilding the heart of Belmar, N.J.: The boardwalk

(CBS News) BELMAR, N.J. - The boardwalk has been romanticized in song as the place where lovers meet. In one New Jersey community devastated by Hurricane Sandy, the boardwalk was the very heart of the town, and work is underway to get it beating again.

Jimmy Kamaris has opened his restaurant, Jimmy's Place, in the Jersey Shore town of Belmar every weekday morning since Hurricane Sandy hit 10 weeks ago. He acknowledged that he thought about walking away.

"I was thinking about just closing up shop, taking my losses, and moving on," he said. "But something told me to stay."

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For three weeks, he gave away food for free. With power out and much of the town underwater, his restaurant powered by a generator was the only place to get a hot meal.

"It was scary," said Kamaris. "It was scary and nerve-wracking to say the least. I think I fed off the people I was feeding. I kind of fed off of them because they were so appreciative. I got strength from them to hang on."

Kamaris weathered through, and now Jimmy's place is one of three businesses open near the Belmar shore. The town is now working hard to help Kamaris and other business owners get back on track. Step one is rebuilding the boardwalk.

"We have about 140 small businesses completely dependent on tourists that come to Belmar in the summer," said Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty. "Without a Belmar boardwalk, without the beach, we wouldn't have the tourists, and it would be devastating to those middle-class families that own those businesses."

"It's like anything else when you lose something," said Kamaris. "You miss it, and you want it back, and you want it in most cases better than it was. So I think that's the thing to show some resilience that you can't be beat, that you can't beat us."

Kamaris has his eye on Memorial Day weekend, the official start of the summer tourist season. The mayor has promised the town's boardwalk will be back by then. Kamaris is betting that his customers will be too.

"There's a lot on the line," he said. "And if I go down, I go down. But I'll go down fighting."

It sounds very Jersey.

"Yeah, it's Jersey," said Kamaris. "Jersey strong."

  • Elaine Quijano

    Elaine Quijano was named a CBS News correspondent in January 2010. Quijano reports for "CBS This Morning" and the "CBS Evening News," and contributes across all CBS News platforms. She is based in New York.

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