Three years have passed since flames engulfed 7th Street Surf Shop. Once the fire died
down, only an ashen ruin remained. That, however, is neither the beginning nor the end.
The true beginning, if one can even be named, almost came five years earlier than it did.
History is set, and instead, owners Becky and Larry Friedel spent that time waiting for the
perfect location. In 1986, the first 7th Street Surf Shop opened its doors at 654 boardwalk,
overlooking Ocean City’s only surfing beach. At the time of its inception, it was a new, unknown store competing with two other surf shops that had been established since the sixties. Even so, 7th Street Surf Shop began to grow.
One year later, in 1987, a second location opened inside the Surf Mall; it would move to
its current location at 1118 boardwalk—between 11th and 12th street—three years later. That
same year, the store began giving its first surf lessons and a tradition was born. Beginning as free lessons once a week on Saturdays, they quickly evolved to what they are today. In 1994, a third location opened on Asbury Avenue as a year-round business.
Kids grew up in and around these stores—a phenomena which was only accentuated
when surf camps began in the late 2000s. Memories were made and embedded into the grain of the wood of these shops—most notably 7th and boardwalk, which served as a gatehouse for the ocean and the waves that lay beyond.
At about 8pm on May 16, 2015, that first, original location burned. Many things can and
have been said about that night. Fewer can be said with confidence and conviction. They do not talk about the confusion that surrounded the events while they were unfolding. They do not talk about the difficulty to learn anything significant when you are a thousand miles away and the only people who know anything are panicking. They do not talk about the act of trying to piece together what is going on from half-heard jumbled accounts. They do not talk about the sensation of watching memories burn around you. They do not talk about the emptiness present when standing in the husk of a place you thought you knew. These lie in the realm of the undescribed and unknowable.
Here is what is known. An outlet had a computer plugged into it in the back office of the
shop. It shorted and a fire started. The back door was open and the wind was blowing in from the ocean. All of the smoke was exiting out the back. No sign of it, not even the smell, was present in the front of the store. No one inside noticed the fire. Someone came in from the back and told the girl who was working. When the office door was opened, large flames were seen. Smoke filled the store. Everyone evacuated. No one was hurt. The fire department contained the fire to the single store—the concrete walls and lack of strong wind kept it from spreading. The fire was eventually extinguished, but not before it left its mark.
The heat caused a total loss of contents. Even the cash registers melted. Much was
completely destroyed. The little that remained was scorched, covered in ash, and reeked of smoke. The building had to be gutted.
That summer, 7th Street Surf Shop’s trademark surf lessons continued, but they were run
from the 7th Street Beach Arcade—the owner’s other business, located twenty feet north of the original location. The shop itself remained closed.
As stated at the beginning, this was not the end. As seen with the phoenix or the
lodgepole pine, fire—while destructive—can bring new life. The loss was acknowledged,
accepted, and moved past. The opportunity for improvement was seized and acted upon.
Owner Larry Friedel says, “From the ashes we rebuilt the original 7th Street Surf Shop. Same location. Same staff. But physically newer, with higher ceilings, updated interior, new decor, and easier access due to a wider open boardwalk entrance.”
On May 16, 2016, exactly one year after the incident, 7th Street Surf Shop’s original
location reopened its doors to the public. Soon after, on May 27, they held a grand opening and ribbon cutting to mark the occasion. Thus, it was reborn.
One common comment made is that the shop now feels larger inside than it did before the
fire. Technically speaking, the shop has the same dimensions as before. However, the raised ceilings and open front give off the appearance of more space.
As it stands, the new design is both pretty and feels less crowded than previously. The
store rose from the ashes to meet, or perhaps even exceed, the height it previously held.
Since reopening, this store has been open for the past two summers, and will be
open once again for summer 2018.
Written by Kira Friedel