Eight months later, Hurricane Matthew still having ripple effect on area piers, businesses

Eight months after Hurricane Matthew, some local piers and the businesses that rely on them are still struggling to recover.

The most obvious examples — the Springmaid Pier at at 3200 S. Ocean Blvd. in Myrtle Beach and the Surfside Pier at 11 S. Ocean Blvd. in Surfside Beach — remain in particular disrepair after Matthew ripped off the end of each wooden structure.

Both hold an important symbolism for the two tourism-based communities. Both attracted anglers and sightseers as community meeting spaces and focal points in a traditional beach vacation. In April, Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce President Brad Dean even attended a public workshop in Surfside Beach to urge that the pier be rebuilt quickly.

But in the meantime, businesses that operate in the ecosystem around each pier are hoping to hang on.

‘You might lose everything’

The publicly-owned Surfside Pier was the source of a double-punch of bad news for the town this week. Not only will Surfside skip its typical July 4 fireworks, which are shot off the pier, compliance with strict FEMA requirements and regulations mean its reconstruction could stretch to 2019.

Officials had previously hoped to re-open by the summer season in 2018.

“There’s not anything we can do [about the timeline],” Mayor Bob Childs said. “If you miss crossing a T, you might lose everything.”

But that means a long wait may become financially untenable for Curtis Kremer, who operates two businesses on the pier — bait and gift shop Pier Outfitters and Licks Ice Cream Shoppe.

In 2017, he said, business is down 30 percent so far. Once-reliable sales segments, like $35,000 in rod rentals from last year, have evaporated.

“We’ve lost all of the fishing and the ancillary business that comes with it,” Kremer said.

Kremer is also a contractor with the town, and collected the $1 fees that allow visitors onto the pier. That contract, which was set to expire, was recently extended through 2018 as a stopgap. But Kremer said the delay could force him to leave the space.

He was also concerned about how the reconstruction will go — and if the town council is willing to spring for a cement pier, which would be more durable than the current wood.

“The town has a chance to build a 100-year pier, if they do it right,” he said.

At Surf Diner next door, owner Shawn Roth was more optimistic, and said the restaurant has maintained a steady customer base, supported in part by locals. He declined to specify whether the pier had a significant impact on business.

“We’re along for the long ride,” he said, adding he was willing to work with the town for whatever form the rebuilt pier takes.

Locals are among the loudest voices urging a rebuild. Debbie and Tim Green, who live on Holmestown Road just outside of Surfside, relaxed just underneath the remaining pier on Friday — a space they said served many functions, from community meeting place to a crucial piece of shade on a hot day.

The couple has been so tied to the Surfside Pier for the seven years they’ve lived on the Grand Strand that they once found a cardboard box on the beach, wrote their names on it and wedged it next to the steps up to Surf Diner — joking that it was their new mailbox.

“Some people call me the mayor [of the pier],” Debbie Green said. “I cried the day I saw that it was half down.”

The couple, like many others, collected a piece of driftwood shorn from the structure on the day after the hurricane. They agree that it’s their favorite spot on the beach, but disagreed in how to move forward.

Tim Green said the pier should end at its current point, rather than stretching back out into the ocean. Debbie Green wants it rebuilt stronger than before.

After 43 years of marriage, she said, “We agree to disagree.”

‘Hit and miss’

In Myrtle Beach, the 14th Avenue Pier and 2nd Avenue Pier are still in business — but the Springmaid Pier, with the deepest ties to the city’s earlier days as a working-class resort, has been shredded to leave a suggestive trail of pylons sticking out of the sea.

And at noon on Friday, the restaurant that sits at its entrance was nearly empty.

“It’s been hit and miss,” said Blake Alston, manager of the Southern Tide Bar & Grille.

The restaurant, which will open in colder months based on the occupancy of the resort adjacent to the pier, was closed from October to Memorial Day weekend this year. Alston declined to specify what the financial impact of that closing has been.

The bait shop across from the restaurant remains closed.

Springmaid Pier, which was previously the longest in Myrtle Beach at 1,060 feet, opened in 1953 as the Springmaid Beach Resort opened to the public. Before then, the resort was reserved for vacationing workers from the textile manufacturer Springs Industries.

The pier has been rebuilt many times before — after Hurricane Hazel in 1954, in 1959 after a small plane crashed into the structure and then again in 1973.

But Springmaid Pier and the resort have since changed hands, with Hilton Doubletree buying the property and renovating a significant portion of it in 2015. Alan Fabri, a director of sales and marketing for Hilton Doubletree, said the company had no timeline for the rebuild after a Facebook post earlier this month saying it had hired a contractor to begin the process.

Fabri said the 150 feet of the pier that are still safe are being put to use, however — it’s become a reception space for meetings and conventions, where clients are charged the same rates as for Doubletree’s inside options.

“If you come to the beach and you’re doing a meeting, you want to do something different,” he said.

‘There was definitely a crowd’

At City Bait & Tackle at 705 8th Ave. N. in Myrtle Beach, manager Ray Norris sits a few feet under a mounted five-pound, seven-ounce pompano caught on the north end of Myrtle Beach, just a few miles away. The store thrives on sales of surf-fishing staples like shrimp, he said, and has been an institution among local anglers for years.

It’s one place where the loss of two local piers hasn’t pulled down business. Clientele at the store tend to prefer fishing from the sand, Norris said, because “There’s too many people on the piers, and there’s a lot of lines. They’re getting tangled up, I guess.”

With two piers in the area out of commission, Norris hasn’t seen any negative affect on the business — sales are slightly up, rather, bolstered by fewer options for pier fishing and, possibly, the closure of some of the bait shops on the piers.

Paula Green, owner and operator of the Garden City Pier and the eateries and arcade there, said she’s also seen a modest bump in business — as much as 10 percent — and more foot traffic, with a few visitors telling her they’ve opted for Garden City over Surfside, their usual haunt.

“There was definitely a crowd waiting for us to re-open,” she said.

The Garden City Pier was left relatively unscathed by Matthew, though there was significant damage to some of the infrastructure around it, like its parking lot, its handicapped ramp and two pylons underneath. Green declined to identify a total cost of the damage, saying that she was still in discussions with insurance companies.

But she said storm damage doesn’t just kick off a long, complicated process of designing, permitting and building — it can wipe some piers out of existence.

“With each hurricane, you’re going to find a couple of piers that don’t come back,” she said.

The Garden City Pier, in fact, was one of the last to re-open after Hurricane Hugo, in 1989. Visitors didn’t walk the wooden boards again until 1992.

As for the next storm to take down the Garden City Pier, Green said, “I’m sure the day’s coming. I hope it’s another 30 years.”

Chloe Johnson: 843-626-0381, @_ChloeAJ