By Tim Kelly
They came. They saw. They showered.
To Ocean City residents and visitors who stay in a house or a room, that post-beach shower might be taken for granted. Not so for the customers of the 13th St. Bath House.
“I’ve been coming down every Wednesday in the summer for 24 years,” said Diane Christy of West Deptford. “I have a full (SUV) loaded with people and stuff.” She was on hand with daughter Gina and friend Michelle Wright and her kids Mikayla and Luke.
“My husband’s business keeps him working all the time so I just can’t get away to stay the night,” Christy said. “We love it here. (The bath house) allows us to come (to Ocean City). It’s something we look forward to all week.”
Such stories are typical at the business owned by Tony and Janet Galante. The Bath House is part of the bustling enterprise that also includes 13th St. Bike Rentals and a 75-car parking lot. To say it keeps the couple busy is an understatement. But it is well worth all the hard work, said Tony, now in his 8th year with the Bathhouse and 19th at the parking lot. He also operates a bike rental business at 10th St.
“It’s really like a village,” he said. “Many people are here by 7:30 a.m. to park. Then they go to breakfast, change into their beach attire, use the bath rooms all day, have lunch nearby, shower, have dinner in the area and leave around 8 p.m. They’ve been with us all day. They come back year after year and you get to know them and their families.”
Galente, the former longtime physical education teacher and head wrestling coach at Ocean City High School, understands the unique role his Bath House holds in Ocean City history. Where public showers abounded in town and throughout the Jersey Shore since the early 1900’s, their numbers decreased through the years and have now all but disappeared.
In the days when trains brought thousands of visitors from Philadelphia and the western part of South Jersey, it was common for the tourists to rely on the bath houses.
“I think we are the last one in the tri-county area,” Galante said.
For $8 per adult (kids under 10 and babies are $4) customers have use of the restrooms, and a changing stall. Clean, fresh towels are $1 and all customers receive free shampoo, and body wash. The first 100 customers may borrow a seasonal beach badge, which they return at the time of their shower. Any customers arriving after that are responsible for the purchase of a daily badge.
Customers use their cars as “lockers” for valuables. Parking fees for the day vary throughout the season, but Galante said parking is free for customers who come from other beaches around town and simply want to take a shower and leave. At peak times, there can be a wait to use the showers.
“It’s a great deal,” said Susan Blevens of Lancaster, Pa., who took a tour bus from nearby Paradise, Pa. with her granddaughter Sedona. “The facilities are clean and the people are nice.”
Blevens said the trip was a 13th birthday present for her granddaughter. The duo left their home at 7:30 a.m. and arrived in OC two hours later. They enjoyed a pizza “brunch” at Angelo’s restaurant, and then spent most of the day on the beach. They had dinner at Angelo’s, showered, and relaxed under one of the beach umbrellas on the facility’s outdoor deck.
“It’s really nice here,” Sedona said. “It’s not crowded like Ocean City Maryland. The best part of the trip was the beach.”
Galante said the women’s showers were completely renovated this year, and the men’s would follow suit this off-season.
“Bus drivers love us because everyone can get a nice hot shower and be comfortable for the ride home,” he said.
Despite the Bath House’s status as the last of its kind, the owner sees a bright future.
“We’re not going anywhere. We’ll be here as long as our landlord allows us to be. We have a great location, a beautiful beach, and there are great restaurants in the immediate area. In addition to Angelo’s there is the Beach Club and Ike’s which has been around forever.”
It all adds up to that popular metaphor for pure pleasure: a day at the beach.