July 2018

The Sands of Time: Family-Owned Department Store Turns 60

By Linda Dougherty

Sands Department Store storefront, located at 6208 Landis Ave.

In 1958, a gallon of gas cost 24 cents, a loaf of bread sold for 19 cents, and Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. Elvis Presley was inducted into the Army, Sir Edmund Hillary reached the South Pole, it was a peak year for drive-in movies, and the Wham-O company introduced the Hula Hoop.


It’s also the year that Matthew Iannone opened up the Surf & Sand Variety Shop on Landis Avenue. Now simply known as Sands, and owned and operated by his son Arthur and wife Lisa, the store recently celebrated its 60th anniversary.


Sands is a favorite place to shop for those vacationing in Sea Isle for just a few days, as well as year-round residents. Its been in the same building, located next to the Acme Supermarket, for those 60 years, and can rightly be called the store that has just about everything. Small blue signs on the front of the store announce what’s inside: hardware, housewares, giftware, clothes, footwear, beach items, toys and games, and fishing gear, as well as much, much more.


And through those six decades, Sands has been a place where young people got their first summer jobs. Many employees have stayed with the Iannones for much longer than one summer – Diane Schuster, for example, is about to start her 11th year at the store.


Owners Lisa and Arthur Iannone with daughters Hannah and Krista.


It all began when Matthew Iannone, originally from West Orange, N.J., came to Sea Isle in the early 1950s to work in the real estate business. After the shopping center on Landis Avenue was constructed, Iannone learned that the people who were going to run the department store backed out of the deal, and he decided to step in. He christened it the Surf & Sand Variety Shop, while also keeping his hand in real estate.


“My brother Jimmy took over the business about 1967,” says Arthur Iannone. “And as a kid, I also worked here. After I got out of college, my brother took me on as a partner, and eventually in 2008 I bought him out.”


When it first opened, the Surf & Sand Variety Shop was a 5 & 10, but now its stock is more upscale, thanks to Arthur and Lisa.


“We still have all the categories you’d find in a 5 & 10, but we have better clothing, better toys, we’ve evolved into a little bit of everything to fill the needs of customers,” Arthur says. “It’s not what you’d think of a typical 5 & 10. Over the years, we’ve listened to our customers and added products to our store, and we now have a great mix. I don’t think you can compare us to anybody. It’s such a unique store – usually, most stores are more specialized and carry fewer things, but we pretty much cover everything.”


The original Sands logo is still present today in the storefront.


The store survived two major storms: the March 6, 1962 nor’easter, and Superstorm Sandy on Oct. 29, 2012. During Sandy, it was flooded with 2 feet of water.


“Between the 1962 storm and Sandy, we hadn’t had water in the store,” Arthur notes. “That’s a long stretch with a lot of storms, and no water.”


But, says Lisa, “It took us six months to clean up from Sandy.”


The Iannones, who live in Sea Isle, are hands-on owners, overseeing every detail, big and small, to keep Sands humming. The store is a labor of love; except for the period from Christmas Day through Feb. 10, Sands is open for business. During that short stretch, the Iannones use the time to order and replenish their stock and do other chores that need to be completed. And in the summer, store hours are extended to 9pm, with the couple usually not leaving until after 10.


“We never take vacations, but maybe we might next year,” Lisa says.


We would like to thank The Sea Isle City Historical Museum for providing us with this photo.


Many things have changed since the Surf & Sand Variety Shop opened its doors in 1958. Online retailers such as Amazon and big-box stores have made survival difficult for smaller establishments. Arthur Iannone has seen changes in Sea Isle City, too, since Sands celebrated its 50th anniversary a decade ago.


“The whole dynamic of the summertime has changed, and more so over the last 10 years,” he says. “Our summer season is shorter, but busier and more intense. Years ago, when the summer started, it was a longer stretch. You’d have the whole 12 weeks, May through September. Now the season doesn’t really start until the schools get out, in late June. There’s eight weeks, but six really strong weeks, from July through the first part of August. Then it tapers off, with the college kids going back to school.”


Arthur says there has been a notable change in the habits of renters in Sea Isle City, as well as the entire Jersey Shore, that has helped make the busy period for Sands so intense.


Cousins Hannah, James, Patrick & Krista Iannone.


“Years ago, families would rent for the whole season, and the wife and kids would come down while the husband still worked,” he says. “And it was more affordable to rent for the season. Now it seems they’re in Sea Isle for only a week or two.


This change has been happening gradually, but it’s gotten even worse the last couple of years.”


The Iannones’ two daughters – Krista, 20, and Hannah, 18 – practically grew up in Sands. Each of them, however, is currently in college and plans to pursue a career outside of the family business, so there’s a question whether the next generation of Iannones will take up the Sands' mantle.


“People are thrilled to find we’re still in business,” says Arthur. “Every year, their first reaction is, ‘You’re still here!’ Many longtime family businesses are closing up, in part because it’s hard to compete against the bigger stores that have sales, and it’s tough to survive.”


But Sands Department Store is a survivor. The 60-year-old tradition of the Iannone family serving the needs of the Sea Isle community virtually year-round continues, in the same blue-roofed building that Matthew Iannone helped to create so long ago.

Copyright 2018 Seven Mile Publishing.  All rights reserved.