By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Robert Ferrandino, a 25-year regular at the Springfield Inn, said he got to know the employees so well that they would have his favorite drink, a Scotch and water, ready for him even before he sat down at the bar. He didn’t even have to order it.
“They treat you like family. That’s the main thing. I’m going to miss it,” said Ferrandino, 72, a resident of south Philadelphia.
As he sipped on his customary Scotch and water on Saturday afternoon, Ferrandino, who was accompanied by his wife, Marlene, 71, wondered whether it would be the very last time that he would ever have a drink at the Springfield.
The legendary bar that has been a Sea Isle City landmark for nearly 50 years closed Saturday, possibly for good. An investment group from Pennsylvania is buying the property and plans to redevelop it.
Knowing that Saturday may have truly been the last call for the Springfield, hundreds of customers packed its outdoor bar to have a few drinks, reminisce about old times and mourn the loss of their favorite Jersey Shore hangout.
“I’m mad. It’s never going to be the same – no matter what they build here,” said Margie Leauber, 55, a resident of Allentown, Pa., who has been partying at the Springfield for 30 years during her vacations at the shore.
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.
“It’s casual and carefree. I can roll right up off the beach and come in as is,” Leauber said while sharing drinks with a group of friends.
The no-frills Springfield has possessed a special allure for multiple generations of customers ever since it opened in 1972 under the ownership of the Bisciotti family.
Sisters Betsy Cooney, Terry Eidenberg and Joanne Bisciotti have followed their parents, Joe and Liz Bisciotti, as the Springfield’s owners. The Springfield’s manager, who declined to give his name, said the sisters were too busy working to grant an interview Saturday.
Asked if Saturday was the last day the Springfield would ever be open, the manager replied, “I have no idea.”
The Springfield Inn’s Facebook page had a posting about the “final day” that included the words, “Well this is it … Come say goodbye to your favorite bar. Bring your friends and reminisce about the good old days or make some great new memories.”
The Juliano Brothers, a three-member band that has been performing at the Springfield every year since 2005, wrapped things up Saturday with a powerful set that included sing-alongs with the standing-room-only crowd at the Carousel.
Their final song to close the Springfield at around 6 p.m. was the classic Who song “Baba O’Riley.”
“Thank you so much for 50 wonderful years at the Springfield Inn,” band member Greg Juliano said while bidding the crowd farewell. “You will forever be in our heart.”
Afterward, Juliano said in an interview that he and his brothers, Mike and Matt, have not been invited back for the 2020 summer season. Greg Juliano said he will always have fond memories of the Springfield and the way he and his brothers were treated like family by the owners.
“It’s not about the money, it’s not about the popularity, it’s about the people,” Juliano said. “When we’re treated like family, it means much, much more.”
Carol McGowan, a longtime Springfield customer, said the bar was such an important part of her family that it became “a tradition.”
“I’ve been coming here since my parents starting coming here in the 1970s. Now my kids are coming here with me,” said McGowan, who lives in Drexel Hill, Pa., and has a summer home in Sea Isle.
McGowan was accompanied by her husband, Jim, her daughter, Molly, her son-in-law Shane and his parents. She expressed her sadness over the Springfield’s closing.
“It’s almost like losing a home,” McGowan said.
The Springfield’s coveted beachfront location at 43rd Street and Pleasure Avenue makes it a strong candidate for redevelopment. It is the only beachfront business in Sea Isle that has a liquor license.
The buyers plan to demolish the old building to make room for a new restaurant, outdoor bar, banquet hall and four condominiums. The proposed project by MEH Investments, of Flourtown, Pa., would be decidedly more upscale than the unpretentious Springfield.
However, in a nod to the Springfield’s long history in Sea Isle, the buyers want to preserve the iconic name by retaining it when the property is redeveloped into a new bar and 148-seat restaurant, the documents indicate. They also plan to keep the name of the Carousel Bar.
“The property will be developed with a new Springfield Inn and Carousel Bar, with four residential units above,” MEH’s application with the Sea Isle planning board says.
The planning board gave approval to the project at its Sept. 9, meeting. In remarks during the meeting, Brian Halligan, the owner and managing partner of MEH Investments, indicated that the opening of the new Carousel Bar may happen in 12 to 14 months. The opening of the new Springfield Inn’s restaurant, banquet hall and condos would follow later, although a timetable has not yet been announced.
The Springfield has been on the market for $6.7 million for more than a year. It has not been disclosed how much the buyers are paying. Janet DeLorenzo, a real estate agent representing the buyers, said the liquor license still must be transferred and final paperwork must be completed before the deal is done.
Halligan and two other investment partners would be part of the Springfield’s purchase. They would each own a 33.3 percent stake. The other partners are John Krinis, of Glenside, Pa., and Chris Myers, of Blue Bell, Pa., according to the planning board documents.
MEH’s website says the company’s investment portfolio includes commercial, residential and apartment projects in the Philadelphia area. Its strategy for commercial projects is to “look for distressed properties in well trafficked areas and repurpose them to fit the needs of the community,” according to the website.