from www.gmnews.com – EDISON — Two feet of water.
That is what Joseph Cascio Jr., [pictured] general manager at the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center in Raritan Center, faced the day after superstorm Sandy swept through much of the state on Oct. 29, wreaking havoc and leaving many in the dark for days.
Cascio, who is also the general manager at the Garden State Exhibit Center in Somerset, said they have rescheduled five shows because of the storm and were gearing up last week for the Nov. 9-11 Exxxotica Expo 2012, billed as “the largest event in the USA dedicated to love and sex.”
He said the storm surge brought waters 15 feet high from the Raritan River.
“I saw News 12 [which is also located in Raritan Center] announce that they were under water, and at that moment I knew we were in trouble,” he said. “I came here that Tuesday [Oct. 30] and didn’t see much on the outside, but when I opened the doors, I saw puddles throughout.”
Everything in the 150,000-square-foot exhibit space, from the carpet to the furniture and office computers, was destroyed.
“I stood there and did a few things, and then just went home,” he said.
Then on Wednesday morning, Oct. 31, Cascio talked to his staff about what their goals were. The following Wednesday, Nov. 7, Exxxotica 2012 was expected to arrive and set up for the show.
“We had a squeegee team of us and a private restoration company … it was like we were pushing water, and more water was coming in,” he said. “We were contemplating if the show could go on.”
Cascio said after 48 hours, they were seeing improvements. And by Nov. 7, walls were gutted and renovated, 68 electrical sockets were replaced, the carpet was taken out, and the Exxxotica 2012 show went on without a hitch.
“We had a generator, and by Sunday [Nov. 4] morning we had our power restored,” he said. “It did go out during the nor’easter, but that was just for 45 minutes.”
J. Handy, director of Exxxotica, said it was an interesting couple of weeks.
“When the storm hit, we knew automatically that we had to change the direction of our show,” he said. “We’re from Philly [Philadelphia], and it could easily have been us, so that is why we started Exxxotica Gives Back.”
Donations of clothing were collected and the American Red Cross held a blood drive during the expo.
Cascio said he told Handy that it was worse than he was admitting.
“I tend to be an optimist,” Cascio said.
Handy surveyed the damage and stayed positive.
“I come from a construction family background, so I knew it was manageable,” Handy said. “It’s just been a crazy time. Jersey is a resilient place.”
This is the fifth straight year for the Exxxotica Expo, with three years in Edison.
“This show in New Jersey is our largest response fan base,” he said.
In 2006, Handy explained that they began with a show in Miami Beach, Fla., and wanted to have a show in the New York and New Jersey area. The initial site was planned for the Meadowlands in Secaucus; however, four days before the show was set to open in 2008, he said local officials put a stop order on the show.
A call was made to Cascio, and in a fourday period, the show was up and running at the New Jersey Expo Center.
“If it is not one thing, it is another,” said Handy.
He said the show usually sells out local hotels three to four days prior to the show; however, this year hotels were sold out six weeks in advance. Due to the storm, people shifted out of the area or consolidated rooms, making way for people who were in need of a place to stay due to the hurricane.
Handy said the Exxxotica show brings millions of dollars into the area.
Cascio, who is involved with the Edison and Metuchen chambers of commerce, said the local businesses came together and helped him out during the Exxxotica Expo.
“My concession stands were gone,” he said.
Joe Coyle, owner of Raritan Bakery on Amboy Avenue, provided baked goods, and Edison Pizza, Philly Pretzel, and South Plainfield’s 365 Bistro swooped in to help.
Cascio said this week carpet is being installed and painting is continuing.
“These weeks have definitely not been normal,” he said. “Looking forward, we have shows every weekend.”