The Tale of the American Dream
By Steven J. Steger
Steger Beach Service is a family owned and operated business that accommodates the visitors and locals alike on the beaches of Cape May and beyond since 1933. The Steger family has operated a handful of other businesses over the century such as Steger’s Sun n Surf Shop, Steger’s Cape Island Furniture Mart, Steger Beach Service Inc, The Local’s Guide to Cape May, Steger Stand up Paddle Board and new in 2017 Steger Beach Company. Lastly another company operated by a member of the Steger family-Cape May Contracting Inc., a full service general contracting company. Aside from business the Steger family brand has been woven into the fabric of Cape May history with their involvement in many organizations, civic groups and local lore.
The Story of Steger Beach Service begins with a young Lithuanian named Stanislaus Stanskouskis. Born in 1905, he was a son of two immigrants and one of five children who came to America in search of new beginnings. The family made their home in Nashua, New Hampshire. During this time the family changed their names in order to be regarded as more American rather than their old world names. Stanislaus was renamed Steven J. Steger.
During his youth Steven grew up poor in tenement housing and his parents worked in factories and logging mills. His father died in 1912 in a factory accident leaving Steven, and his four other siblings to grow up without a father.
Some years later, Steven focused on school and became a basketball all-star and would receive a scholarship to attend Ithaca College in up state New York. While at college he met his future wife Hazel. After College Steve received his degree in Physical Education and took a job teaching and coaching in Catasaqua High School in Pennsylvania.
When a job opened up in the seaside town of Cape May, Steven was told by the superintendent of schools that he had a good reputation in athletics and coaching. He wanted to award Steven the job as coach and physical education teacher at Cape May High School. The position was sealed with a handshake and it marked the beginning of the Steger legacy in Cape May.
During the Great Depression, Steven took an additional job on the beaches in Cape May as a lifeguard. While working as a guard, he became friendly with a man who owned the Atlantic Bath Houses, which was located on the corner of Jackson Street to Perry St. He also rented beach cabanas, chairs and sold sundries.
In 1933 Steven officially bought the aging business. The property also came with the beach in front of the building. Steven had a vision that the city could use the beach service for the growing number of visitors flocking to the seashore. He idea for the enhanced cabana design came from similar cabanas erected on the Atlantic City beaches. His style seemed more appropriate for small families and couples coming to the beach for the day or weekend. His first year of business the summer storm of 1933 hit Cape May and virtually wiped out all his structures and concession stands. He had to start over.
Aside from his business, Steven began to make a name for him in the teaching and coaching community and earned his nickname “ The Coach.”
His coaching career spanned for 48 years. In his tenure he coached baseball, basketball, track for both girls and boys, and football, and later in his career the athletic director for the Lower Cape May Regional School district. Over the years he coached thousands of athletes some went on to play for the major leagues, college leagues, and even some managed to follow his footsteps and become coaches themselves.
During the Second World War when everyone was enlisting for service, Steven was at an age where he was considered too old for combat. The local recruiting commander said he was more instrumental in training the boys in athletics so they would be in good fighting shape. Steven modeled his exercises after military drills the boys would see in basic training. In order to prepare the boys for war he trained them extra hard and trained alongside them.
In 1959 the Lower Cape May Regional School district recommended him for the prestigious Princeton Prize awarded to secondary education teachers for outstanding service. Steven was a true pillar of the community and his work as a coach and entrepreneur is still talked about to this day.
Steven had two children Robert, and Stephanie. Tragically his wife Hazel died of polio leaving Steven to raise his young family on his own. He would later remarry a second time, his second wife outliving him.
During World War II, Robert served his country honorably in the conflict in Japan. After the Japanese surrendered Robert worked in retail where he managed one of the trading posts on base in occupied Japan. It was during the end of his service, he decided he would return home and open his own store.
In 1950 while dating his future wife Elizabeth Steger he opened Steger’s Cape Island Furniture Mart, which sold furniture and home goods. It was located at the end of the present day Washington Street Mall near Perry Street.
Robert was able to open his store with help from his father and the GI bill, he was 23-years-old at the time. Also during this time Robert and a group of Cape May business owners chartered the cities first ever Chamber of Commerce, which still exists today.
In 1951 he married Elizabeth ( Betty), and the young couple ran the store for 10 years. Tragically in the late 1950s the rise of department stores and malls put a damper on their business and the couple was forced to sell the business.
Robert was presented with a new opportunity to revamp his father’s beachfront bath house. Since Robert was well trained in retail, they turned the rundown bathhouse into a thriving retail store.
Also during this time surfing was hitting the nation and the sport came to the jersey shore in the mid 1960s. Robert was one of the first surfers in southern New Jersey. He surfed year round and managed to buy a diving suit, which allowed him to surf in the winter. Due to the surfing culture sweeping the nation, Robert and Betty renamed the store Steger’s Surf n Sun Shop where it would remain a Cape May icon for the next 30 years.
The couple had two children during the 1950s, Steven R. Steger and Linda Steger. Both children would work the family business in the summer. The Steger Beach Service continued to rise at this time with hundreds of young employees who worked the beaches over the years renting umbrellas, chairs, cabanas, rafts, and boogie boards. At this time Steger Beach Service occupied almost every beach in town. Steger’s Surf n Sun Shop continued to gain popularity.
Steven R. Steger began to take more of an interest in the family business, as Linda moved out of the area with her husband where she later obtained her doctorate degree in child psychology, and worked for a variety of school districts on the east coast. In the mid 1980s Steven took more responsibility in the family business and began to run the beach operation for his grandfather, while his parents managed the store.
Tragedy struck the family in August 1990 when the Coach died of a heart attack in his sleep. He was 84 years old. Devastated, the Steger family decided to continue to run Steger Beach Service without delay.
However, the family was split over unresolved estate planning and some wanted to liquidate the Coaches assets and move on. After many negotiations with lawyers, the family sold all his properties, including the prized Steger’s Surf n Sun Shop. In an effort to preserve the family business, Robert and Betty were able to buy back back a portion of the business. Back in 1940 the Coach purchased an 1880s carriage house on Page Street, which at the time was used for nothing other than storage. As part of the buyout package Robert and Betty bought back the carriage house, all beach equipment, trucks, Steger Beach and Queen Street Beach so they may continue to operate Steger Beach Service. The Hirsch Family of the Montreal Beach Resort bough the block long property and demolished the former home of the Steger’s Surf n Sun Shop, and created seven retail store fronts, which still exist present day.
Robert developed Altimerzers Disease and died in 2007. Steven R. Steger who at the time was starting a young family of his own with his wife Margaret was tasked with the daunting duty of keeping the family businesses afloat. In 1991 the family retreated to the old carriage house on Page Street as the new headquarters for the beach service. Betty still managed the business administration while her son Steven ran the beach operations. Most of the equipment they were left was aged and in bad condition, also the hundreds of cabanas were being eclipsed by the new trend to hit Cape May, the beach box.
Steven had his hands full re-vamping the beach business. He started fresh with new chairs and umbrellas, cabanas, built hundreds of beach boxes, and rebuilt several concession stands. Due to beach replenishment the beaches grew in size and in length, furthering Steger Beach Service operations north bound.
In the early 1990s through the 2000s the beach business was in the midst of revitalization, as the family had to basically start over, much like the summer storm of 1933. Between the years 2008-2010 Steven decided it was time to rebuild their families’ property to further the purpose and functionality of Steger Beach Service. The old carriage house was in bad condition due to years of neglect, did not have running water and had sub-par electrical wiring. Due to various zoning and historical preservation restrictions- the building was permitted to be historically renovated and lifted to proper flood elevations. After many long months of going through the permit process Steven R. Steger broke ground in 2009. A carpenter by trade for many years, Steven rebuilt the carriage house along with his friend Tom Moore. It was a difficult project due to the size and complexity of the renovation, but in 2010 the new building was complete. The new building featured three floors, a garage area, second floor storage area, and the third floor was originally designed for storage, but it was later converted to office space. Steger Beach Service was back to operating a full capacity.
Steven R. Steger and his wife Margaret had two sons Steven J. Steger Jr. and Sean Steger. Both of the boys spent their summers working for the family business. In 2013 Steven J. Steger Jr., the oldest of the two sons, graduated from Monmouth University. After graduation and with a strong entrepreneurial spirit, Steve returned to Cape May to help group is family’s iconic business. Steve saw the need to modernize the business and looked to move to additional opportunities beyond the beach.
Steve’s friend Bobby Gleeson was in the midst of starting a general contracting company and the duo decided to join forces. They decided to use the third floor of the newly renovated carriage house as the site of the construction company’s office. In June of that year Cape May Contracting was established with its new home was on Page Street. For more information about Cape May Contracting see ( our story www.capemaycontracting.com).
The new office at the carriage house gave Steve a hands-on opportunity to revamp the business model of Steger Beach Service. During this time, after almost 50 years of working for the family business, Betty decided to retire and placed her grandson( Steve Jr) in charge of running the business administration.
Steve went to work creating satellite businesses, including Steger Stand-up Paddle Board at Utsch’s Marina alongside long-time family friend and former employee Andy Barber, owner of East Coast Watersports. The merger was highly successful for both parties.
In early 2013 in his college apartment, Steve along with his future wife Holly O’Donnell brainstormed a publication “The Local’s Guide.” The publication featured an insiders look at the community of Cape May with articles, photography, historical facts and advertisements.
Sean Steger became more active in the business administration and his emerging photography career. Sean works alongside his father in the beach operations making sure all equipment is operational and ready for the coming summer season.
In 2017 the Steger organization launched its new resort clothing brand Steger Beach Company which will feature Steger branded clothing and home goods in the newly renovated West End Garage on Perry Street. The family’s goal is to reemerge into the retail market as they did decades ago, and to further the Steger brand as not only a beach business but also a beacon of the beach tradition of Cape May.
Steger Beach Service has continued the trend of the various generations taking the reins and changing with the times and continuing to improve and expand the brand. Since 1933 the family has continued to service the thousands of new patrons and retuning customers and they are proud to carry out our century long tradition. As long as there is a beach in Cape May the Steger’s will always be there.
Check out everything we offer!
- Beach box storage services at weekly, monthly and seasonal rates
- Cabana rentals at daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal rate
- Umbrella and Beach Chair rentals at daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal rates
- Handicapped set-up service and seasonal rates
- Bodyboard, surfboard, stand-up paddle board, and raft rentals
- Special events and chair/umbrella rental for parties, weddings, backyard celebrations or events, and movie nights on the beach
- Surf lessons & Stand-up paddle board tours
- Local’s Guide Publication at Steger Beach Services stands
- Complimentary Beach Service for rental property & Hotels and Guesthouses
- Cape May Beach memorabilia & apparel
- Beach Cart rentals
Appointments are available at our office location only:
905 Page Street, Cape May NJ 08204
Email: [email protected]