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The future of Smitty’s Clam Bar in Somers Point is anyone’s guess beyond 2022

The marina is on the market, and the owners of Smitty’s say they have a commitment to stay open in 2022.

The Clam Bar, popularly known as Smitty's, in Somers Point, N.J.
The Clam Bar, popularly known as Smitty's, in Somers Point, N.J.Read moreMICHAEL KLEIN / Staff

Somers Point summers without Smitty’s?

The operators of the Clam Bar — the official name of the wildly popular, no-frills Somers Point clam shack that’s been dishing up seafood and making memories for nearly a half-century — say their future is uncertain after the owners of the property put it on the market two weeks ago.

Any change would not be imminent. Smitty’s owner Patrice Popovic said the current owner, a trust representing the heirs of founders Bill and Claudia Smith, would honor a commitment to allow the restaurant to operate in 2022. The Clam Bar was open for takeout in the pandemic summers of 2020 and 2021. Last summer, tables were placed out front, where patrons could eat.

Will they be allowed to continue under new owners? “That’s the $6 million question,” Popovic said, with a laugh.

That is the asking price, according to the listing for a “landmark marina-restaurant” with 136 boat slips, boat ramp, 75 storage spaces, restaurant, and a bayfront coffee-breakfast shop. “This property has been operating since 1960, well known for easy access to the ocean, rivers, and creeks,” the listing says. “This property offers a unique opportunity for other resort uses with high seasonal visitor traffic right in the heart of all the action.” A representative of the trust could not be reached for comment.

Popovic started at Smitty’s in 1974 during her summer off from Pennsylvania State University, where she met and fell in love with owner Peter Popovic, who had taken over the year before with friend Denis Dixon, who has since died.

In Smitty’s earlier summers, it was open 24 hours a day, driven by New Jersey’s 18-year-old drinking age and the absence of casinos just 15 minutes away in Atlantic City.

It morphed into a family spot — open Mother’s Day weekend to mid-September — with bar seating and tables and a casual menu. “It’s generational, both with customers and our employees,” Popovic said. (Writer Devra Ferst wrote a lovely appreciation of Smitty’s for Edible Philly in 2019.)

“The customers have been extra-supportive,” Popovic said. “People are trying to help us. That’s been very encouraging and has softened the blow” of the news. She said she guessed that the clam bar could relocate, if need be. The $6 million price tag, she said, is out of their price range.

Co-owners Angelo DeRosa and Todd Simpson, who are relatives, have been doing the bulk of the work, as Popovic, 66, and her husband, 70, are still a part of the business but had been easing out of the day-to-day grind. An adjacent breakfast shop, operated by a friend, closed in March 2020.