Mike Hauke opened a pizza and sub shop in Atlantic City in 2009, but only after he had failed in nine tries to rent the space to somebody else. He had bought the building three years earlier on the advice of his father, an accountant who considered distressed real estate a smart long-term bet. This piece of real estate seemed to test the proposition. It was a bedraggled three-story clapboard house that years of neighborhood demolition and neglect had stranded at the edge of several mostly vacant blocks, which together formed an urban badlands reaching all the way to the dunes. This was the South Inlet, a once thriving part of town and now more or less a desolate slum at the northeastern end of Absecon Island, the landmass that is home to Atlantic City and three other municipalities. People from “offshore,” as locals like to call the mainland, tend to think of the island’s Inlet end as north, because it’s upcoast, but locals call it east. Atlantic City has a Bermuda Triangle effect; it can confound a compass.
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