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A Final Word By Sherry Hoffman

My Kind of Town Finding fortune in fond memories of Atlantic City

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n 1892, New York’s Ellis Island became the reception center for new immigrants. That same year, my paternal grandparents landed in Atlantic City. My father, the youngest of his seven brothers and sisters, was the first of the brood to be born in Atlantic City Hospital rather than at home like the rest of his siblings. Three generations followed suit. In the early 1900s, my grandfather drove a horse and carriage around the sandy streets, collected “good junk” along the way and then sold it. During that time Mayor Edward Bacharach made him an offer: “You will own each acre of land you clear.” My grandfather’s response? “What would I do with it? It’s sand.” In the late 1930s, my father could have purchased an acre of land in Margate for $100. His response? “What would I do with it? It’s marsh.” In the early 1970s, former Atlantic Mayor Jay Bradway reportedly paid for a billboard that asked that the last person to leave Atlantic City please turn out the lights. I could have purchased anything. I didn’t. To this day, our family saying is, “The Hoffman fortune. Pissed away.” In spite of our collective short sightedness, we survived, worked hard, and were happy. In 1952, my family moved six miles away to Margate. Life was idyllic and predictable in the small suburban Louis town. But in 1958, my life changed. and Dora For the next five summers, I called the Hoffman in front Boardwalk home. of their We rented our Margate house and moved grocery to Atlantic City. My parents had purchased a store on Columbia store on the Boardwalk at St. Charles Place, and where Trump Taj Mahal now stands. Pacific It was a small walk-up storefront that sold Avenues the standard fare: hot dogs and hamburgers cooked over an open flame, frozen custard, and fantastic corn-on-the-cob. My job was peeling case after case of corn. We had what seemed like a warehouse of folding chairs and bicycles in the back of the store. We rented the bikes to tourists for early morning rides, and the chairs for the Miss America parade. Some of my friends were gypsies. Their fortune-telling mom, who sat outside and dressed in enough layers to take her through the winter, would trace the lines on my hand and announce, “You will be a star and make lots of money.” The next day she proclaimed, “You will be a grave digger and have dirt under your finger nails.” She was creative. Everyone knew me: the guys who made change at the pinball arcades, the barkers hawking blenders and kitchen knives, and even Busty (50”-26”-36”) Russell, the burlesque queen who was the star at the Globe Theater, which was near our store. I wanted to see Miss Russell and the baggy pants comics perform there, but the side doors of the theater were slatted. I never stopped trying to sneak a peek, and

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LIFESTYLE

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I never succeeded. My best friend Roni and I sang (badly) on the Garden Pier every Wednesday night as part of Aunt Lucy’s kids show. “Clap for the kids and to keep yourselves warm,” she told the audience after each act. I was a pinball addict, and, when necessary, I crawled over the damp sand under the Boardwalk on my belly like an army soldier and searched for coins that may have fallen through the cracks. I fed my habit one nickel at a time. We sold the store in 1963 and, sadly, the Boardwalk became just another place to visit. After college and years spent chasing a dream, I came home to chase another one. I wanted to be part of the gambling that was destined to come to my town. During the campaign blitz before the second referendum in 1976, I needed to do something to help the cause. After marching in the Miss America parade for four years as part of the Atlantic City High School band, I knew the drill. The parade line-up formed at the inlet. I had made a banner that said, “Gambling for us means lower taxes for you.” I picked a spot in line and marched that banner down the middle of the Boardwalk. I didn’t ask permission and no one stopped me. I hope it helped. After the referendum passed, I auditioned for and was hired as an anchor and reporter for WFPG radio, which broadcast then from Steel Pier. Shazam! I was part of the metamorphosis. I was back on the Boardwalk. Shortly after the pier closed, we had the chance to rummage through it. It was a mess. Decades of old entertainers’ contracts spilled out of rusty filing cabinets, plastic hats littered the hallways, overturned theater chairs hung on each other and stage curtains were balled up in the corners. There were decades of old memories. I confess that a few of those memories are now in my home. My years as a radio reporter were the cherries on the parfait of my career. Imagine being a reporter during the infancy of being only the second state in the country to have legalized gambling. It seemed like we were at the center of the universe. There couldn’t have been a better job. I had a backstage pass to the biggest story in my city’s history. My life on the Boardwalk taught me not to trust games of chance, how to pull the lever and flawlessly get six ounces of frozen custard into a cone, to love the smell of a wet Boardwalk, how to interview people from all walks of life, and how to keep a secret. My family has been here from the beginning. Collectively, we’ve seen the city we love rise and fall and rise again many times over. It’s how my city rolls. Remember when Tinkerbell was dying and Peter Pan asked us to clap if we believed in fairies? Well, I believe in Atlantic City. I will never stop clapping. n

NJ Lifestyle Magazine Winter 2016  
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