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Friday, December 6 News

Woog’s World: What will we do without Joey’s?

Over the years, I saw some interesting people at Joey’s by the Shore.

Keith Richards and Patti Hansen sat outside eating ice cream. I was in line once behind Joe Lieberman, who looked a lot worse in a bathing suit than Hansen.

But you did not have to be a Rolling Stone, supermodel or United States Senator to enjoy Joey’s. For over 30 years, the Compo Beach concession stand was filled with noncelebrities. Parents juggling kids, young kids clutching dollar bills, older folks moving slowly, lifeguards, maintenance workers, out-of-towners wandering over from the grills — all weaved through the lines, often more than once a day.

Throughout hot summers and in the off-season too, whenever the weather was nice, Joey’s was as constant a part of Compo as the tides and sunsets.

It was not your typical beach shack. Housed in a sturdy brick building (before renovation, it was a bathhouse), Joey’s served everything. Burgers, dogs and fries, sure, but also salads, wraps, ice cream, frozen yogurt, gelato, cookies, candy, fish and chips, nuggets, pizza, nachos. Plus a lobster roll that was simultaneously derided as ridiculously expenses and lauded as insanely good.

Joey’s also sold beach chairs, umbrellas and suntan lotion. Plus all kinds of Compo, Westport and 06880-branded gear: Hoodies, T-shirts, towels. They were the kinds of things you’d find at LBI or Ocean City, but they made Compo seem like more than just our beach. It was a fun destination.

Joey Romeo put his heart and soul into his operation. For over 30 years of summers that were blazing hot, hurricanes, wind storms, glorious springs and falls, and every other type of weather, Joey’s was the heart and soul of the Westport experience.

It wasn’t just that he was centrally located, smack in the middle of the quintessential Westport spot. It was that he epitomized what a local guy could do, for Westporters and everyone else who wandered through.

Joey honored house accounts. It’s one thing at a place like Elvira’s, a neighborhood joint, where the same faces circle through every day. It’s entirely different at a beach concession stand, where hundreds of strangers crowd the counter. For Joey though, it was no problem.

Joey took pride in his place and far beyond. His staff was constantly cleaning. Beachgoers can be thoughtless; it always amazes me how much food, drinks, napkins, trays and garbage they leave when trash cans sit five yards away, but Joey never complained. He kept the entire area, from the pavilion to the lifeguard shack, clean and welcoming.

His workers reflected his own work ethic. Nearly everyone he hired was a Westporter. Most were teenagers (though many returned all through college, and some afterward). Kids around here are known for many things, but working hard in a service job is not one of them.

Still, Joey found them. I don’t know how but he trained them all to be polite, helpful, efficient, hard-working and team-oriented. I wasn’t a fan of the EDM that always blared from the back, but I always knew I’d get what I ordered. It always came with a smile, a kind word — and quickly.

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Compo Beach was not Joey’s only joint. He expanded a while ago to Longshore. Around the corner from Compo he ran both the concession near the pool (and, in winter, the skating rank), and the golf course halfway house. They were smaller than the beach, but he gave them the same care and concern as his original spot.

What would we do without Joey Romeo? This summer, we’ll find out.

A terse announcement from the town last week said that Joey “will not pay the full rent due in 2019 under his lease, nor is he willing to fulfill his remaining three years under the lease. We have made every effort to negotiate mutually acceptable terms, but we have not reached an agreement with him.”

Romeo declined to add any details, beyond expressing his great appreciation to the town and its people for his 30-plus years serving them. Speculation on the street is that last year’s decision to drastically reduce out-of-town permits and daily parking, resulting in far smaller crowds, cut dramatically into his revenue.

I can’t speak for Joey. But I am happy to speak on behalf of three decades worth of beachgoers.

For them, I say: Thanks Joey, for being there for us. Thanks for making our beach and Longshore experiences fulfilling. Thanks for being by the shore, for sure.

Please let us know where your next venture is. We’ll be there for you, just as you’ve been there for us.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.

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