By David P. Willis | Asbury Park Press
The following is an excerpt from a four part series published by the APP
Asbury Park gay community has helped the city’s resurgence
ASBURY PARK — In 2001, Martin Santomenno bought a home in Asbury Park, a place for a vacation escape just a little over an hour from New York City.
Three years later, he and two family members purchased the old Hotel Tides on Seventh Avenue. They later spent more than $2 million to renovate and turn it into a 20-room establishment.
In doing so, he joined other members of the gay community who settled in the city and later opened businesses, planting roots … and money … in Asbury Park.
“Because I was familiar with it, it was a no-brainer,” Santomenno said. “It was kind of like, ‘This is my home. I live a block away.’ It seemed to be the right thing to do.”
The city has seen highs and lows. Once a commercial powerhouse, anchored by department store Steinbach and other retailers, its downtown fell into steep decline in the 1970s and ’80s, until few businesses remained.
But Asbury Park has benefited over the past decade or so from a surge in the gay and lesbian community.
Asbury Park’s inclusive nature, with a mix of cultures and backgrounds, has served as a draw. Resident Rico Rivera likes to call Asbury Park “the Land of Oz-bury.”
Scott Hamm and Gene Mignola sold their New York City residence and moved to the Howard L. Borden building on Cookman Avenue around January 2008. They opened Shelter Home, a home furnishings store, in August 2008 and purchased the building this year.
Mignola recently moved the New York City office of his fabric-printing business to a space in the back of the store. Shelter Home also has opened a satellite store in the Grand Arcade.
At first, they moved to Asbury Park to be a part of the city’s gay community and near the beach.
“It became more than being part of a gay community. It became more like being part of a community,” Hamm said. “You meet everybody on your street. You sort of know everybody, and within a week, I knew everyone on the street. Hello. Good morning.”
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