The Last Bath House: Built to, well, Last!

May 2, 2021

first_imgBy Tim Kelly“The term ‘bath house’ is kind of outdated,” Tony Galente said as he surveyed the new facilities at his 13th Street Bikes, Bath House and Parking.“Tell people you run a bath house and they say ‘what’s that?’ That’s why we have the sign over there that says ‘showers.’”When it comes to the age-old Jersey Shore tradition of bath houses, Galente and his wife Janet are the keepers of the flame. Or at least keepers of shampoo, body wash and towels.Up until the 1970s, bath houses abounded not only in Ocean City but most other shore communities. Facilities where day-tripping visitors would pay a fee after a day on the beach in exchange for a hot shower and a place to change clothes, bath houses enabled many tourists to comfortably extend their visit.In the 30s, 40s and 50s, thousands of visitors took the train from Philadelphia and the western part of South Jersey to Ocean City and rode them back the same day. In between, they showered at places like Seaside Baths at 9th and the Boardwalk.From left, Eric, Toby, Sallie and Michelle Yoder, all of Port Clinton, PA at the 13th St. Bath House.It’s still that way at the 13th Street Bath House, and will be for years to come., thanks to some recent renovations. Last offseason, the Galentes upgraded with a complete upgrade of the existing facilities and the addition of new ones.  They added six shower stalls for a total of 18; nine new changing rooms for a total of 27; and two new bathrooms for a total of five.  The idea of bath houses might be “old school,” but the Galantes are committed to the future,“We made a significant investment in making these upgrades,” Tony said. “We  have a great landlord, nine more years on our lease.  We’re looking forward to being here for a long time.”It’s not just the business aspect that keep the Galentes and their small but dedicated group of employees going. It’s the idea they are promoting an important part of Ocean City tourism.“There is a good segment of the population that either doesn’t have the time or can’t afford to rent a place for a week or two,” he said. “We think it’s essential for the city to promote what has been such a longstanding tradition and part of Ocean City history.  There needs to be room for the segment of people who are not part of the Saturday-to-Saturday rentals.”Despite all the upgrades to the facility, the cost for a shower remains at $8 for adults, $4 for children 10 and under, and $1 for a clean towel.Tony and Janet Galente, proprietors of 13th Street Bikes, Bath House and Parking“That’s been the price forever, and we aren’t going to raise it (at this time) “ Tony said.Another great value is Galente’s practice of loaning a beach tag to the first 100 customers each day. After the supply of free tags is loaned out, patrons are responsible for buying their own daily tag.On a sunny beach day, many customers begin to arrive around 7:30 a.m. They pay the prevailing parking rate and use their cars as lockers.  Many day-trippers will enjoy breakfast on the boardwalk, change into beach attire, get in their beach time, lunch on the boards, and use the bathrooms as needed all day.After the beach it’s on to the showers. “Then they are good for dinner and well into the night,” Janet said.  “We are with many of these people all day.  They are full of energy when we first see them, and by the time they leave, they’re exhausted. “Other customers walk in to the bath house from other beaches around the island and even from out of town. Customers who come in for showers only are permitted to park in the lot for free while they are using the bath house.Janet Galante shows one of the new handicapped accessible showers at the last known bath house at the South Jersey Shore.Last call for showers is 7 p.m., Janet said, and at peak times there can be a wait. But cooperation and patience rule the day.  Those who must wait do so in chairs under beach umbrellas.  School, church, and community groups often bring entire busloads of people to the bath house, Tony said, and the staff is not rattled.“We have a great group of employees, and everybody knows their role and plays as a team. If a customer shows up before the lot is (officially) open, one of the bike guys can tell them where to park and we will take care of them.  One of the things we take pride in is being nice to everyone and going the extra mile for our customers.  That’s something that is very important.  It’s good for business, sure, but if you are kind to people I believe it comes back to you.”Eric Yoder said the bath house made it possible to bring his family to the beach from their home in Port Clinton, Pa., a town about a half hour outside of Reading. “We rent a place for two weeks later in the summer, but we’ve been coming to the bath house for years,” said Yoder, who was with son Toby, daughter Sallie and wife Michelle. “When we come down for the day, we come here.  It’s clean and the people are friendly.”Janet Galente said the cleanliness factor is probably the single most important element in the bath house biz.“As you can imagine, that is the thing most people look for,” she said, and the numerous positive on-line reviews certainly back that up.   She said a professional cleaning person scours the bathrooms, showers and changing areas each and every night.Ocean City does offer public showers at Moorlyn Terrace, 6th St. and elsewhere around town.  But it’s just not the same, Tony maintains.“People don’t want to just rinse off and drive around in a wet bathing suit,” he said. “They want a nice hot shower and a place to change into warm dry clothes.”“We are proud of what we do, and we think we play an important part in the history and the economy of the town.”Employee Sharon Norton, whose fulltime job is teaching at Ocean City High School, stands ready to help customers at the Bath House at 13th Street and the Boardwalk. Janet Galente shows off the new shower facilities.last_img

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