The outdoor Carousel Bar overlooking Sea Isle City's oceanfront Promenade is one of the centerpieces of the Springfield Inn.

By Donald Wittkowski

When the business world first coined the catchphrase “customer loyalty” many years ago, someone, somewhere, must have been thinking of the Springfield Inn.

The throwback bar with the shabby chic interior has possessed a special allure for legions of customers – multiple generations, in fact – ever since it opened in 1972 under the ownership of the Bisciotti family.

But as the summer of 2017 is about to draw to a close with the passing of Labor Day weekend, questions remain whether this will be the Springfield’s last hurrah or whether it will remain part of Sea Isle City’s lively bar scene in 2018.

The three sisters who own the Springfield have proposed demolishing the old building at the corner of 43rd Street and Pleasure Avenue to make room for a new development that would include a beachfront bar, restaurant and condominiums in a four-story complex.

The Springfield Inn has been a fixture at the corner of 43rd Street and Pleasure Avenue since 1972.

Some of the Springfield’s nostalgic customers are opposed to the redevelopment plan. They want the no-frills bar to remain exactly the way it is now.

“We say no to that,” Albert Schweizer, 54, who has been a Springfield patron for more than 20 years, said of the plans for a facelift.

Schweizer, a Sea Isle summer vacationer from Levittown, Pa., described the Springfield as a “cool place.”

“Why would anyone want to change it?” he said. “Personally, I wouldn’t, but the owners have to make a decision.”

Although Sea Isle’s planning board has approved the redevelopment project, the timing of construction and whether it will even happen at all are unknown at this point. A spokesman for the Springfield said Sunday that “all options remain on the table,” including a possible sale.

“There have been a lot of questions about it. Is it going away?” said the spokesman, who declined to give his name.

A Labor Day weekend crowd had already packed the Carousel Bar by early Sunday afternoon.

Sisters Betsy Cooney, Terry Eidenberg and Joanne Bisciotti followed their parents, Joe and Liz Bisciotti, as the Springfield’s owners. In an interview in July, Cooney said the sisters had not made any final decisions, including when to begin the redevelopment project and whether they should keep the iconic Springfield Inn name.

“It’s time. We’ve owned it for 45 years, and it’s time for a change,” Cooney said then.

The Springfield’s spokesman said Cooney wasn’t available for a follow-up interview on Sunday, but he stressed that nothing had changed since Cooney spoke in July.

“It’s explorative, and if it’s done, it will be done at a later date,” the spokesman said of the Springfield’s proposed redevelopment. “No decision has been made.”

Suggesting that the Springfield will return in 2018, the spokesman noted that the bar has already booked its bands for next summer.

Jake Cooney, who is Betsy Cooney’s son and works as a cook at the Springfield, said Sunday that customers are “always asking” him what will happen to the bar. He said he has to tell them that he simply doesn’t know.

“No one’s sure right now,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.

Asked why he thought the Springfield has remained popular for so many years, Cooney replied, “It’s a people’s place – casual people.”

Husband and wife Tom and Karen Wilkinson, left, two longtime Springfield Inn customers from Doylestown, Pa., are joined by friends at the Carousel Bar.

In its current iteration, the Springfield includes a nightclub and the outdoor Carousel Bar, a casual watering hole adjacent to the city’s oceanfront Promenade walkway. Popular with crowds that come right off the beach, the Springfield is known for its unadorned surroundings.

Hardly surprising for Labor Day weekend, the Carousel Bar was already brimming with customers by early Sunday afternoon. The bar had a beach-party vibe, with most of the patrons dressed in flip-flops or sandals, shorts and T-shirts. Adding to its seashore atmosphere, the Carousel has beach sand covering the ground around the bar tables.

“We like the sand. I want my toes in the sand and a drink in my hand,” said Karen Wilkinson, who was sipping on a vodka and cranberry juice cocktail in a plastic cup.

Wilkinson and her husband, Tom, both 54, are longtime customers at the Springfield. They have a summer home in Sea Isle and live in Doylestown, Pa. Tom Wilkinson noted that he first came to the Springfield around the time he graduated from college in 1985.

“I like the homey beach bar,” he said. “When you come to the same place for such a long time and it’s never changed, that makes it special.”

Kathleen O’Neill, 49, of West Chester, Pa., stopped in for a beer at the Carousel after taking a jog, still clad in her running clothes.

“It’s a comfy place. You don’t have to get dressed up,” said O’Neill, who has been a Springfield customer for about 20 years. “It’s a relaxing atmosphere. It’s laid back. The people are never uptight.”

From left, friends Eileen McCay, Kim Swider and Kathleen O’Neill enjoy sharing beers together.

O’Neill’s friend, Eileen McCay, another longtime Springfield customer, likes the bar so much that she had her 40th birthday party there eight years ago.

“A lot of locals go to the Springfield. You can see a lot of your friends there,” said McCay, who lives in Mount Laurel, N.J., and has a summer home in Sea Isle. “I love the atmosphere and the people who work there. Plus, it’s right down the street from my house.”

In between songs blaring over the Carousel’s loudspeakers, customers could faintly hear the sounds of waves breaking on the shoreline.

The Springfield’s prime beachfront location makes it a strong candidate for redevelopment. The bar could be the latest local establishment to capitalize on a 2008 change in the city’s zoning law that allows businesses to rebuild commercial properties while adding more residential space.

The idea behind the zoning change was to encourage businesses to stay put in town, instead of seeing them disappear to make room for even more housing. The mixed-use projects include commercial establishments such as bars, restaurants and retail shops operating on the street level, while the top floors feature condos or apartments.

In simple black letters, the Springfield Inn name adorns the side of the building on 43rd Street.