By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Step through the doors of Shoobies Restaurant in Sea Isle City and you may think you have passed through a time portal magically transporting you to the 1950s.
Old 45 rpm vinyl records covering the walls are mixed together with photos of rock-n-roll legend Buddy Holly and other 1950s icons in a distinctively doo-wop décor harkening back to the Eisenhower era.
Shoobies owner Joe Roberts has served up old-school flair, family-friendly fun and diner-style food for 30 years, but now he is looking to sell the building as he finally contemplates his retirement from the restaurant business.
“In 30 years, I have never spent a Fourth of July, Memorial Day or Labor Day with my family. The time is right,” the 58-year-old Roberts said of his decision to step away from the demands of restaurant ownership.
However, he anticipates keeping Shoobies open for one more summer as he looks for a buyer to take over the property at the corner of 40th Street and Landis Avenue in the heart of downtown Sea Isle.
The Shoobies building and a tiny bungalow-style house that Roberts also owns directly behind the restaurant are on the market for $2.2 million.
Roberts stressed that the sale has nothing to do with the COVID-19 crisis. The restaurant industry in general has suffered a huge blow from the coronavirus-related restrictions on indoor dining in the past year.
However, Roberts explained that he was able to adapt during the pandemic by creating more space for outdoor dining at Shoobies. He said he was able to hold his own over the summer, despite the business challenges he encountered because of the pandemic.
“There is no COVID casualty here,” he said in an interview Monday. “Shoobies has been very, very good to me.”
Although Roberts’ emotional attachments to Shoobies give him some hope that another restaurant operator would buy it and keep it going, the property is being marketed as a strong redevelopment site that could capitalize on its high-profile downtown location.
“You can’t get a better spot,” said Terese Jones-Anders of RE/MAX Preferred, the broker selling the property for Roberts.
Jones-Anders said the building will likely be demolished to make room for a redevelopment project by whoever buys the property.
“Most people would want to tear it down. The building is old,” she said.
The bungalow behind Shoobies that is part of the sale will also likely be demolished, creating even more space for a redevelopment project.
A RE/MAX sign in the front window of Shoobies touts the property as a “Commercial and Residential Development Opportunity.”
In recent years, there has been a trend in Sea Isle for mixed-use developments that combine commercial space such as retail shops or restaurants on the first floor with condominiums or apartments on the top two floors.
In 2008, Sea Isle approved a zoning change that allows developers to build commercial properties that also include residential space.
The idea behind the zoning change was to encourage businesses to stay put in town, rather than seeing them disappear to make room for even more housing.
Three projects built in the last five years in the Townsends Inlet section followed the commercial-residential model to revitalize Landis Avenue between 85th and 87th streets.
Last year saw the opening of two mixed-use projects on Landis Avenue between 42nd and 44th streets. They have transformed the appearance of that section of the downtown corridor with a new wave of development.
Sea Isle is benefiting from a red-hot real estate market for both home sales and commercial space. With that in mind, Roberts believes the timing is right for the sale of the Shoobies property.
“It’s all about the land,” he said of the strong demand for property.
Sea Isle’s downtown is already poised for a dramatic change with the proposed redevelopment of the LaCosta Lounge and Springfield Inn, two landmark bars since the 1970s.
The Springfield Inn at 43rd Street and Pleasure Avenue will be demolished to make room for a new beach-themed outdoor bar and restaurant scheduled to open this summer under new ownership.
LaCosta Lounge at the corner of Landis Avenue and John F. Kennedy Boulevard is supposed to be torn down at some point for a new upscale hotel project, but the plans are being revised and may change dramatically when they are announced.
Business partners Christopher Glancey and Bob Morris, who bought the LaCosta Lounge and surrounding property in 2018 for $7.3 million, are the same developers who built the mixed-use projects on Landis Avenue between 85th and 87th streets.
Both Roberts and Jones-Anders are excited about the prospects of the LaCosta Lounge being redeveloped right across the street from Shoobies. They believe it will freshen up the look of the downtown area and make the Shoobies property an even more inviting target for potential developers.
“It’s just going to help it,” Jones-Anders said of the Shoobies sale. “We’re excited about what’s to come.”
Roberts estimated that the Shoobies building dates to the late 1930s. He said it once served as the city’s post office before it became the location of a delicatessen.
Roberts transformed the building into Shoobies 30 years ago, creating a family-friendly restaurant known for its breakfast and lunch fare.
Looking back, Roberts said he will always fondly remember the smiles that Shoobies was able to put on the faces of countless children and their parents.
One of the main attractions of Shoobies is its family entertainment days featuring an assortment of costumed superheroes, Disney favorites and other movie characters. Roberts believes that Shoobies has helped to promote Sea Isle as a family-fun vacation destination.
“If you have little kids, this is the place you want to come to,” he said of Shoobies.
However, after spending three decades in the demanding restaurant business, he noted that he is ready to sell Shoobies and prepare for retirement.
Shoobies is closed now for the off-season, but Roberts plans to reopen for one more summer unless the sale goes fast and the buyer wants to quickly begin the property’s redevelopment, he said.