Seaside Heights cashing in on 'Jersey Shore'

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The cast of "Jersey Shore." Some in Seaside Heights are learning to make money off the MTV reality show that many find offensive.

THERE'S an important lesson to be learned at the "Shoot the Guido" game on the Seaside Heights boardwalk.

For just $5, you can cradle an air-powered AK-47 in your arms and blast 30 pink paintballs at a guy wearing a giant, plastic head molded in the likeness of Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi or Pauly D, two members of MTV's hit reality series "Jersey Shore."

The legions of "Jersey Shore" haters might get a little kick out of pounding Snooki's pouf or peppering Pauly D's blowout with paintballs for a few seconds. When it's over, though, Snooki's coy plastic smirk remains, her reign of power continues, and you're out $5.

"Not too many people want to shoot Saddam Hussein anymore," said Patrick Wilson, the 20-year-old man you're actually shooting with paintballs. "Snooki gets hit the most. We have to repaint the faces a lot."

And with her arrest on disorderly conduct charges in Seaside yesterday, Snooki may become an even more popular target for paintball gunners.

While people throughout the state, the nation and probably even in remote Amazon tribes all weigh in on "Jersey Shore's" captivating stupidity and profess their hatred, Seaside Heights, MTV and a small legion of store and business owners in this blue-collar Ocean County resort are pumping their fists all the way to the bank.

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"We really had no idea what it would become," said Seaside Heights Borough Administrator John Camera. "We never knew that this dumb little reality show would blow up the way it did."

The second season of the show premiered Thursday night on MTV.

Before "Jersey Shore," Seaside was most famous for MTV "Beach House" stints and a 1991 visit by Dick Cheney that drew more than 100,000 people.

It was always seen as a rough-and-tumble town, a beachside resort where families mingled with outlaw bikers and you could grab an ice-cream cone and a shot of whiskey on the boardwalk. In the winter, families on social services lived in hotels there; teens invaded in the spring after proms with caches of booze; and for at least the last decade, folks like "J-Woww" and "The Situation" have traveled there in the summer from North Jersey and New York.

In 2004, MTV's "True Life: I'm a Jersey Shore Girl" first chronicled the spectacle of spray-tanned, tough-talking "guidettes" who invaded Ocean and Monmouth counties' Shore towns each summer to bag a buff "guido" with gleaming spikes atop his head.

Now, six years later, Snooki and crew are ringing the opening bell on Wall Street and ringing the dinner bell for Seaside Heights tourists. The third season is filming there now, after the cast headed to Miami for the second season.

Maria Lynn Maruca, executive director of the business-improvement district, says the show will bring the town an estimated $6 million in revenue. That doesn't include the additional tourists who are drawn to Snooki's artificial glow like moths.

"It's mind-boggling what this has done for us," Maruca said.

On a recent weekday afternoon, MTV film crews were lugging heavy cameras all over town. Dozens of people, mostly teenage girls, gawked at the house's beachfront deck from the boardwalk below, hoping for a glimpse of a shirtless The Situation. No one ever appeared, but everyone took pictures.

On the street side, nearly a half-dozen Seaside Heights police officers and one very serious security guard ordered pedestrians to steer clear of the ordinary-looking, cedar-shingle beach house where the magic happens.

"I bet you girls would like to stay in that house, wouldn't you?" real-estate agent Mike Loundy asked a group of giggling girls at the corner.

The girls replied with more giggles, but they'd need at least $2,500 a night and possibly more, even in winter, to rent the home. Loundy says the home has hosted Sweet 16 parties, Google executives and even a few celebrities, although he won't drop names.

It's not just the owner of the home that's hit the jackpot, Loundy said.

"Let me break it down for you. There's 140 crew members, and they're filling up 140 hotel rooms. They each have to eat and sleep, and they're going to be here for a while," he said.

If you can't afford to stay there, you can take a virtual tour by visiting tours.jerseygirlvirtualtours.

com/public/vtour/display/9173?a=1.

Nearly every boardwalk store has some mention of the show, whether it's garish T-shirts with "Come at me Bro," "Pump Fists not Gas" or "I love my Guido" in red, white and green, or an eatery that recently changed its name to Jersey Shore Cafe.

It might be ugly, but it's basic capitalism, said Ilan Ariel, owner of the Ocean Jam shirt shop.

"It's a stupid show, but it draws the crowds," he said. "This is a short season, and you have to hit it hard."

At the Beachcomber Bar and Grill, the bar stool where Snooki got hit hard by a drunk customer last year became so famous, the owners had to put it in storage. Still, they come, bartender Tatiana Mishanina said, just to say they were there.

"Hey, it brings business and that's what this town needs," she said.

So why would anyone lob a grenade at Seaside Heights for getting in the hot tub with Snooki and crew? Why bash any tourists - Gov. Chris Christie himself decried the eight cast members as "a bunch of New Yorkers" - when tourism is the Shore's lifeline?

"This town is 90 percent tourists," Camera said. "We would die without tourists from New York."

As an Italian, Cheryl Squadrito said "Jersey Shore" doesn't put her nationality in the best light, but she also owns a Haddonfield-based public-relations firm and thinks Seaside is taking the right approach, regardless of what Christie says.

"I don't think Snooki and The Situation are bad for New Jersey," Squadrito said. "If I were representing Seaside, I would have some fun with this."

Not everyone agrees.

Jersey native and Italian-American Joe Piscopo, one-time cast member of "Saturday Night Live," thinks Snooki and company - and New Jersey - are being exploited by MTV "so [parent company] Viacom can up their stock price."

"To use the name of the great Jersey Shore, and make it a forced-drama reality series just for shock value, should be against the law!" Piscopo said, via e-mail. "It is defamation of our great state and its people. A lot of the times, when you're young, you're stupid. And that's what happening with the poor kids at the 'Jersey Shore' show."

Ask Gwen Hall, an employee at a jewelry store yards from the "Jersey Shore" house on the boardwalk, about the show and her eyes roll.

"It makes Seaside look horrible," she said.

Jen Miller, a freelance writer and author of The Jersey Shore: Atlantic City to Cape May, said she doesn't blame Seaside for "capitalizing in a recession" but does blame MTV for turning Snooki and her ilk into unofficial mascots for the entire coast.

"The name of the show should be different," she said. "They should have called it 'Seaside Heights.' "

Each Shore town is a different place with a unique character, Miller emphasized, and while Ronnie or Pauly D might be at home in Seaside or Belmar, they'd be out of place "down the Shore" in Sea Isle City or North Wildwood.

"Could you imagine them in Cape May?" Miller said.

Someday, MTV will clear out of Seaside, Miller said, but the stain of "Jersey Shore" will stick around for years.

"It's already getting annoying," she said. "I'm going to throw a party when they're all either bankrupt or in porn."