Sunday, September 17, 2023

Capt’n Jack’s confirms acquisition of Boardwalk Mall; “everything is on the table” for future of the historic property

Three years after moving in and, quite literally, changing the face of the
Boardwalk Mall, the owners of Capt’n Jack’s Island Grill have purchased the iconic complex at Garfield Avenue (3800 Boardwalk).

Sean Dougherty of Jersey Cape Partners confirmed that the sale was finalized on Thursday, September 7. He went on to note that the mall will operate as normal through the end of the month. After the season ends, discussions about the future of the property will begin in earnest.

“Most importantly, I’d like to squash some of the wild rumors we’ve seen floating around on social media,” Dougherty said. “No, we are not coming in, padlocking the doors and kicking anyone out. 

“Everything is status quo for now. Tenants have leases and we will be honoring all of them. The mall has traditionally stayed open on weekends until the end of September, and that’s how we’ll operate to close out the season.”

So, what are the new owners’ plans for the mall beyond 2023?

“Absolutely everything is on the table,” said Dougherty. “We’re keeping a very open mind about this, but the goal is to bring fresh and exciting concepts to Wildwood, to breathe new life into a, frankly, outdated concept and continue playing a key role in what we see as the revitalization of the Boardwalk.

“We’ve had a number of people reach out already with ideas, since word started getting out [about the impending sale] earlier in the summer. We’ve heard from local food guys and others from out of state. A lot of great ideas, unique concepts that we’re looking forward to exploring.”

When asked if the traditional indoor shopping aspect of the mall will eventually be phased out, Dougherty said that he and his partners, brother E.J. Dougherty and Patrick Rosenello, envision a “multi-use” property that will offer guests a variety of options.

“Specialized shopping, food, games, live entertainment… something similar to the new Cape Square Entertainment in Rio Grande, on a smaller scale, of course,” he explained. “The mall, as it is now, needs an overhaul. The arcade is rundown and needs a lot of work. If we’re to open the second level as a mall next year, it will need some upgrades.”

“Changes are coming but they won’t happen overnight. It could take us two, three years to get to where we’re going. And even then, we’ll continuously strive to make improvements. Whether we own a property or lease, we will never stop investing in it.”

Capt’n Jack’s arrived as the Boardwalk Mall’s prime tenant in 2020, the catalyst in a major revamp that also saw The Chillin Pineapple and Playa Bowls added to the front of the building. The bar/restaurant took over a space at Boardwalk level on the corner of Garfield Avenue, as well as the entire upper floor (stretching the width of the property’s facade).

Seeking to take advantage of the already spectacular panoramic views of the boards, beach and ocean offered by the location, the Dougherty brothers and Rosenello worked with the City of Wildwood to add an outdoor balcony with additional seating space. That project was approved earlier this year and carried out over the summer.

The trio also owns and operates the original Capt’n Jack’s Island Grill (Poplar Avenue) and Papi’s Taco’s (Magnolia Avenue) on the Wildwood Boardwalk, in addition to AGAVE Tequila Bar and Harbor Burger Bar in Stone Harbor, and Nucky’s Kitchen & Speakeasy in Ventnor.

The Boardwalk Mall has been a Wildwood staple since it debuted on Memorial Day Weekend of 1977. The building has a long and storied history, beginning its life as the Regent Theatre at Atlantic & Lincoln Avenues. In 1921, Bill Hunt (of Hunt’s Pier fame) moved the wooden structure to its present location at E. Garfield Avenue & Boardwalk.

In 1945, Hunt contracted architect William Howard Lee to redesign the building in concrete. It would continue to show movies for the next three decades, before being purchased by Marty Falk, who conceived the idea of an indoor shopping mall and carried out the conversion. 

For many years, the Boardwalk Mall boasted over 30 stores and attractions. In more recent times, the mall has struggled to reinvent itself and maintain a consistent identity. 

In addition to Capt’n Jack’s and the aforementioned Chillin Pineapple and Playa Bowls, this summer’s roster of tenants has included: East Side Sunglasses Store & Surf Shop, Sportsman’s Corner, The Concert Store, Old Time Photo, Wild Poke Bowls, Kannavis Botanicals, Maggie’s Boutique, Sun and Sand Boutique, She Shell Boutique and the Boardwalk Mall Arcade.

“We’re really excited for the future of the mall and we’re looking forward to being a part of the next stage of its transformation,” said Joseph Gaspero, co-owner of The Chillin Pineapple. “This was our fourth summer here along with our neighbors, Playa Bowls and Capt'n Jack’s. We’ve built a great following and it’s gotten better every year.” 

Added Dougherty: “[The Boardwalk Mall] had its heyday in the 80’s and 90’s. It was a great concept for those times. Indoor shopping malls were very popular then and it worked on the Boardwalk. It was a reflection of the culture. Now, you take a look around, malls are closing left and right around the country. Online shopping is the thing now. 

“As times change, so does the Boardwalk. It’s always changing and you have to keep up. When the opportunity to buy the mall was presented, we jumped at it because of the immense potential of the building and location. We want to bring something fun and cool, something that will benefit the Boardwalk. We want to make the Boardwalk Mall an attractive, hip place to be, whatever its future holds.” 

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