It’s hard to believe that I’m back here with you writing again. When I wrote my first blog post I thought one person would read it. My mom. Oh and she did alright – “Kevin, I didn’t know you could write! Did you actually write this?!?” As it turns out, she wasn’t the only one that read it. In fact, THOUSANDS of you read it, liked it, commented on it and asked me questions about it. So yes, I’m back!
A lot of you that know me well asked where Bo was in my last blog post. Well Russell B. “Bo” Ruggerio, Godfather of the Boardwalk as many called him, deserves his own blog post. He fits into my real estate career and my story buthis story takes up a whole post. Bo was really like another father to me. He took me under his wings and treated me like the son that he never had. He was an owner of many Boardwalk shops and downtown businesses, a landlord, a real estate developer and a dear friend.
I met Bo back in the 90s in my early years in Ocean City. I was managing the Coins on the Boardwalk at the time and running my power-washing business during the day. Bo was the landlord for the building and owned the famous Dutch Bar just below Coins. The Dutch Bar was his baby – he could be found at pretty much any hour of the day perched on a stool inside his establishment watching over his beloved business and Boardwalk. The owner of Coins, Vinny Coyne and Bo were essentially cut from the same cloth – they were everyday characters full of life and really good businessmen. Vinny knew everything there was to know about running a restaurant and Bo knew everything else. They both taught me so many lessons about life and business. At times, I had to be the mediator between the two when they butted heads but otherwise we were pretty inseparable. Instead of going to bed after closing up our respective bars at 3am, Bo would drive me around to all his properties and ask me how much they would cost to get power-washed (I learned that if I wanted $400 for the job, I’d have to tell him $800 because he would beat me down on price so much).
Bo was such a character, so full of life and crazy ideas – I just got a kick out of watching him work on a daily basis. There was one day I remember when I was sitting with Bo at the bar, getting my daily lesson on business and life when in walks the UPS guy with two brand new motorized scooters. His crazy idea was that he was going to hang the scooters from the ceiling at the dart game and offer them up as the “grand prizes” if you won. I was confused at first as to how this was going to work in Bo’s favor. “Kevin, ain’t nobody going to win this game. I could poke somebody’s eyes out with these darts! I could hang a Cadillac from the ceiling and nobody would ever win it.” He had a point as usual – they were not the sharpest darts on the Boardwalk.
In the early 2000s, Coins on the Boardwalk shut down and I went to work at Fishtails. My power-washing business Absolute Powerwash was successful but it wasn’t quite enough for me. You all know the story now of how I got my real estate license while working at Fishtails – shortly after that, I was walking down the boardwalk in 2004 and ran into Bo. “Where have you been Kevin? I heard you’re in real estate now, why haven’t you come knocking on my doors yet?” I didn’t want Bo to think I was after his pockets and so I hadn’t touched base with him about my new career yet. I had just finished up the Waters Edge project though and was looking for the next big thing. I pretty much saw Bo everyday until the day he died after that. I wore a path down to his office (in the back of the Dutch Bar of course!)
The path I wore to Bo’s office was well worth it. Bo was working on his biggest project to date – the planning and development of the Belmont Towers on Dorchester Street with his partners, Bob and Amy Rothermel. His beloved Dutch Bar was to be torn down and in its place would be the most luxurious two and three bedroom condos that sat directly along the beach and Boardwalk. There was no other complex or project that matched it to date. Amazingly, Bo and the Rothermels were so trusting of me, and my boss Mark Fritschle, that they basically handed me the entire project and told me to get to work. The day the Dutch Bar got demolished, I set up a card table on the boardwalk and started selling the units that made up Belmont Towers ranging in price from $800,000 to $2 million. Before any towers were ever in sight, I had all 75 letters of intent signed. But it wasn’t going to be an easy project by any means. The market came to a halt in 2006 and almost every contract (with the exception of a few) fell through. I was in trouble, both from a career standpoint and a financial standpoint.
One day Bo and I were walking down the boardwalk checking on his various businesses and rental properties. The Belmont was halfway built, Katrina had already hit, the market was in the tank and I was stressed to the max.
“What’s wrong with you Kevin?” he asked.
“Oh you know the usual.” I responded.
“Kevin! You see that homeless man over there? Thank god you’re stressed out, because that means you’re in the game. That poor guy over there has no stress, he’s got no worries. If you’re not stressed out, you’re not in the game.”
Bo had a point (he usually did) but it didn’t really make me feel better, at least not at the time. “How much money do you need Kevin?” was Bo’s next question. I was surprised at first that he would offer me money but then again he had developed a reputation over the years as the man to go to when one needed help, whether it was a job, a place to live or a little extra money to get over a rough patch. I initially refused to borrow money from him but he kept insisting and I honestly felt like I didn’t have a choice. Bo took me back to the condo he owned, pulled out his sock drawer and asked me how much I needed. $10,000? $20,000? $30,000? The man had tens of thousands of dollars in cash in his sock drawer! I couldn’t believe it. I ended up taking $30,000 and was completely scared out of my mind to do so. Bo was like Robin Hood when it came to business – he scared and intimidated everyone but when it came to a kid on the boardwalk that needed money, he had a heart of gold. I paid him back within six months – every penny– and although he never charged me anything in interest, he knew I would pay him back with my time. I worked my tail off for him and the Rothermels selling those units during the economic downturn.
This was about the time that I met the now-Governor Larry Hogan, and his colleagues that worked for The Hogan Companies. They represented a slew of wealthy folks from over the bridge that were interested in buying half-built luxury condominiums at discounted prices due to the downtown of the market. The units were discounted from their original prices but they were still extremely expensive considering the state of the economy. Nonetheless, I worked with The Hogan Companies to put together multiple deals grouping blocks of 5 condos together at a time that they would purchase and then resell to their clients. It was a win/win for everyone – they were able to get an even better deal on the units because they were buying so many and the Rothermels were thrilled to be unloading a block of condos all at once during the housing crisis and economic downturn.
Bo died in February of 2008 before Larry Hogan and his company ever came into the picture and before Belmont Towers was completed. I definitely lost a piece of myself when Bo passed. I knew his time was coming – he had been suffering from cancer but it was still so hard to say goodbye. Our community lost a philanthropist and well-known Boardwalk figure, the Belmont Towers lost one of its partners and I lost a dear friend. I know he would have shared in the Rothermels excitement about The Hogan Company deals and been proud of what the building has become in downtown Ocean City. To this day, I still work with Bob and Amy Rothermel and still list and sell condos in the Belmont Towers every year. Bo’s legacy lives on and I am forever grateful to him for all that he taught me. I do have to remind myself at least once a week thanks to Bo, that “if you’re not stressed, you’re not in the game.”