Apparently, vacationers really do “Love Those Wildwood Days.” During the 2022 tourism season, the beach resort destination posted better-than-expected results, according to the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement & Development Authority (GWTIDA).
In a recent announcement, the tourism marketing organization for the Borough of Wildwood Crest, the City of Wildwood and the City of North Wildwood reported record revenue gains in several key categories last summer, including:
A 24% increase in visitor spending on lodging and prepared food and beverage — higher than the five-year average tourism revenues (excluding 2020 season numbers).
A 9% uptick in spending on lodging, prepared food and beverage in 2022 over 2021, which was previously a record year.
That figure marks a 38% increase over the past five-year average for both the 2% Tourism Tax and the 1.85% Tourism Assessment combined, the organization said. It also represents a $1 million increase over the Wildwoods’ 2021 results, which were a record $8.9 million, according to GWTIDA.
Commenting on the 2022 season, GWTIDA Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer John Siciliano said, “The Wildwoods continue to perform well above industry benchmarks for tourism growth each year by developing strategic marketing and public relations initiatives aimed at communicating the major attributes that have made the Wildwoods a truly unique family vacation destination.”
The U.S. Department of Commerce announced Jan. 26 that its Economic Development Administration (EDA) is awarding a $1.1 million grant to North Wildwood for a project to reconstruct three blocks of the boardwalk.
The effort, which is being matched with $1.9 million in local funds, will feature boardwalk structural repairs – including timber replacement, electrical upgrades and lighting fixtures – as well as Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant ramps, stairs and beach access.
Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondi says that the Biden Administration knows how important the travel and tourism industry is for the economy, especially here in the Garden State.
“This EDA investment will support the growth of the tourism sector in Wildwood, creating jobs and bringing more visitors to the region,” said Raimondi.
Officials estimate that this funding will create 520 jobs and generate $11.8 million in private investment.
The announcement comes on the heels of Gov. Phil Murphy’s State of the State address, during which he proposed the creation of a new statewide Boardwalk Fund.
“We thank the U.S. Department of Commerce and our congressional delegation for their continued commitment to New Jersey’s economic vitality,” said Murphy. “This investment in the future of North Wildwood will generate millions in private investment and hundreds of jobs in a community that long epitomized the very best of our state’s iconic tourist destinations. In tandem with the statewide Boardwalk Fund I proposed earlier this month, this pivotal federal support will further accelerate growth in our burgeoning shore economies.”
“This grant from the EDA will not only support the Wildwoods’ local tourism industry, but will create hundreds of jobs, support small business growth, and fuel additional private investment into the community,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat.
Sen. Cory Booker, also a Democrat, said this funding is critical because New Jersey’s boardwalks serve as economic engines up and down the shore.
“This federal funding will provide vital upgrades to North Wildwood’s infrastructure and pave the way toward continued growth while attracting more businesses and visitors to the region,” said Booker.
“In South Jersey, the tourism and travel industry is vital to economic growth in the region,” said U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd District. “This grant for North Wildwood will attract visitors, provide jobs, and as a result, stimulate the local economy.”
Now in its 13th year, the promotion seeks to help drive traffic to restaurants during November, which, after a busy summer season and just before the holidays, is a traditionally slow time of the year.
Eateries taking part in this year’s promotion include:
21A on Broadway – Long Branch
801 Craft Kitchen & Sprits – Belmar
Al Ponte – Neptune City
B2 Bistro & Bar – Red Bank
Avenue – Long Branch
Atlantic Offshore Fishery – Point Pleasant Beach
Beijing Bistro – Red Bank
B2 Bistro Point Beach – Point Pleasant Beach
Bar Anticipation – Lake Como
Berkeley Cut Steakhouse – Seaside Park
Berg’s Smoked Meats & Poutine – Belmar
Brandl – Belmar
Branch Cantina – Long Branch
Blu Grotto – Oceanport
Brooklyn Bistro – Toms River
Bum Rogers Crabhouse – Seaside Park
Catch 19 – Red Bank
Centrada – Red Bank
Crab’s Claw Inn – Lavalette
Fratello’s Restaurant & Lounge – Sea Girt
Elbow Room Bar + Kitchen – Bradley Beach
Drifthouse by David Burke – Sea Bright
Harrigan’s Pub – Sea GirtGrenville Hotel and Restaurant – Bay Head
Grandma’s Meatball – Manasquan
La Cipollina Ristorante – Freehold
Killer Pies – Asbury Park
Johnny Piancone’s – Long Branch
Mantoloking Road Alehouse – Brick
Langosta Lounge – Asbury Park
La Dolce Vita – Belmar
Mister C’s Beach Bistro – Allenhurst
Molly Pitcher Inn – Red Bank
Marandola’s – Bradley Beach
Moonstruck – Asbury Park
Mr. Shrimp – Belmar
MonAlyssa Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria – Point Pleasant
First, the good news: June 21 marks the official first day of summer. The not-so-good news? Celebrating summer at the Jersey Shore will cost you more than it did last year. According to Affinity Federal Credit Union, families will spend 16.6% more to vacation at their favorite Shore destinations this year.
Basking Ridge-based Affinity has tracked typical Jersey Shore summer vacation activities and necessities to calculate cost changes over the past year. The research, released June 16, found the following jumps in costs:
31.4% in travel, including gas and parking
18% in beach services, such as beach tags, chair and umbrella rentals
10.5% for food and drink, including coffee, taffy and pizza
11.5% for leisure activities, including mini golf, amusement park rides and parasailing
But there is more good news: The team at Affinity offered families advice, saying planning ahead will allow them to stay on budget while still enjoying their vacations. The financial planners suggest families prioritize their top activities and budget items, and then shop around for extras and “non-experience based activities,” such as snacks or beach chair rentals.
For example, families can bring more beach towels from home instead of renting chairs or pack sandwiches instead of eating every lunch at a restaurant.
Also, apps and websites like GetUpside, GasBuddy, AAA TripTik Travel Planner, Waze and MapQuest can help drivers find the best prices on gas and help locate those gas stations along your route. Affinity also advised researching gas-savings cards from retailers as well as cash-back or bonus credit cards.
“Nothing compares to summertime at the Jersey Shore,” Jacqui Kearns, chief brand, strategy, and wellbeing officer of Affinity, said in a statement. “At Affinity, we are committed to the financial wellbeing of our members, and we recognize the role vacations play in living a healthier and happier life. No doubt, inflation will impact vacationers, but planning ahead for these higher prices allows families to still enjoy the Jersey Shore experience while remaining on budget.”
In a related blog, Kearns also pointed out that entry into all of New Jersey’s state parks, forests and recreation areas will be free of charge this summer.
Despite rising gas prices, a recent survey by GasBuddy found that 58% of Americans still planned to road trip this summer. Additionally, New Jerseyans may see some budget breathing room after Gov. Phil Murphy and state leaders announced a deal June 15 to expand the governor’s proposed ANCHOR Property Tax Program to now provide $2 billion in property tax relief to 2 million New Jerseyans.
“Shore businesses still need the support of visitors so keeping your vacation plans in place and making adjustments where needed can be mutually beneficial as businesses recover from the pandemic slow down and the related challenges that are now going into the third summer,” Kearns added in her blog.
Affinity’s research was conducted through a May 2022 survey of New Jersey Shoretown businesses and compared to products and services surveyed in summer 2021, Affinity said in the statement.
At the 14th annual Jersey Shorecast, a panel of business and tourism experts said that the Jersey Shore has recovered economically from the COVID-19 shutdown and is expecting a busy 2022 summer.
That was the message that came out of the annual seminar, which was held at the Stockton University Atlantic City John F. Scarpa Academic Center. The Jersey Shorecast was sponsored by the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality, and Tourism (LIGHT), Stockton University School of Business.
LIGHT Faculty Director Jane Bokunewicz moderated the panel, which included:
Oliver Cooke, associate professor of economics at Stockton University and editor of the South Jersey Economic Review
Sharon Franz, sales and marketing director at Steel Pier in Atlantic City
“I think the summer of 2022 is going to be another robust and strong shore season,” said Cooke. “It may not be as robust as last summer. I hope I’m wrong, but there was so much pent-up savings and pent-up demand (last year). … I wouldn’t be surprised if we were close to what we were last summer.”
“For Cape May County, we’ve recovered 96% compared to 2019, so we are there,” said Wieland. “In the first quarter in 2022, we’ve seen that our lodging has surpassed 2019, which was a record year. Visitation has also surpassed 2019 (in the first quarter). We are right there close to recovery, and we are seeing things continue to move and do better.”
Some of the panelists did express worry about gas prices and inflation, though.
“We have concerns about gas prices,” said Franz. “We have concerns with products and services going up. We are trying to think out of the box to get people here.”
But, overall, they all expressed optimism about the upcoming summer. “I think we might be back to pre-pandemic levels,” said Franz.
“We are really bullish on this summer season,” added Ziereis.
In what has become known as New Jersey’s City by the Sea, Kushner announced on Sept. 10 that it appointed Pierson Commercial as the exclusive retail leasing agent for Pier Village, a year-round oceanfront residential, commercial and recreational destination in Long Branch.
Situated along 2,000 feet of prime Jersey Shore oceanfront, Pier Village attracts more than 2.3 million annual visitors and encompasses 170,000 square feet of retail, 492 luxury apartment rentals, 245 upscale condominiums and 91 hotel rooms.
Kushner, owner of Pier Village as well as nearby Monmouth Mall, is credited with achieving strong, stabilized occupancy rates that exceed 98% across Pier Village’s apartment homes.
The new phase of Pier Village, completed just this summer, features the addition of more than 50,000 square feet of retail, which already includes Salt Steakhouse, Hot Mess Studio, Baked Bear and Boardwalk Fun & Games Arcade.
In addition to the retail component, it also includes 245 luxury condominiums – 80% of which were pre-sold – and the modern Wave Resort.
According to Pierson Commercial Director Ryan Starkman, the Pierson/Kushner team is focused on taking an extremely successful retail and mixed-use development to the next level by focusing on the lease-up opportunities of this new phase of modern retail.
“Pier Village has become a bustling ‘South Beach-Style’ town center,” said Starkman, who is spearheading the leasing assignment. “It is the epicenter for dining, shopping, entertainment, hospitality and living.”
In addition to offering a beach vibe during the summer months, Pier Village is a year-round live/work/play destination. Top attractions include the boardwalk Carousel, which opened in 2019; the Ice Rink at the Pier during the winter; Boardwalk Fun ‘N Games Arcade and the Spring Kite Festival, among others. Ongoing events include wine tastings, holiday celebrations, farmer’s markets, movies and concerts at the pier.
“We are excited to add Pierson Commercial as the retail leasing specialists to our best-in-class team,” said Kushner Principal Nicole Kushner Meyer. “The Shops at Pier Village are coming alive and we are proud to welcome a diverse group of new retailers, restaurants and service providers to the neighborhood.”
Despite record interest from customers coming out of the pandemic, ongoing hiring shortages have nonetheless continued to pummel businesses this summer.
That’s according to several employers who pleaded their case at a July 27 morning press conference at Point Pleasant Beach, a family seaside town.
“Being open 100% means absolutely nothing without a workforce of 100%,” said Michele Siekerka, head of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, which organized the Tuesday press conference at Red’s Lobster, a seasonal eatery at the western entrance to the Manasquan Inlet, which pours out into the Atlantic Ocean.
The exact cause of the hiring shortage has been a matter of intense political debate.
Businesses claim the added $300 in federal unemployment weekly benefits has, in turn, disincentivized people to return to work and fueled a disappointing nationwide April jobs report, which saw 266,000 jobs added rather than the projected 1 million.
States like North Dakota, Montana and South Carolina are dropping the benefits, but Gov. Phil Murphy says there are no similar plans in New Jersey.
State leaders have tinkered with different proposals–expanded working hours for underage teenagers, back-to-work bonuses, and for employers to handle the costs of providing increased pay.
Siekerka, at the July 27 event, said one proposal was for the state to provide a lump sum of the $300 per week benefits for those who immediately return to work. And she pushed for stricter requirements so that any claimants able, but not willing, to return to work can be penalized.
Labor rights organizations contend that a combination of low pay, poor working conditions and lack of health and safety precautions – especially in light of the pandemic – are driving a shortage in applicants.
Though business owners like Allie O’Neill, who operates a set of bakeries on Long Beach Island, said on Tuesday that her operations have still struggled to recover even with boosted pay.
Other factors such as lack of access to child care mean that workers have no way to ensure their children are looked after while those parents are at their place of employment.
August and everything after
But the effects are nonetheless felt across the board, especially for the Jersey Shore, which typically acts as a multibillion-dollar cash cow for the state each year.
Those businesses include boardwalks and amusement parks, restaurants and retail, lifeguards, campgrounds, museums, hotels and motels, and virtually any employer on the 141-mile coastline.
“Our businesses have been forced to cut hours, close portions of their operations, and some just shut down unexpectedly, disappointing our loyal customers who say, all year long, for their one trip to the shore,” said Vicki Clark, president of the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce, which heavily depends on summer tourism.
NJBIA President and CEO Michele Siekerka talks about what the organization characterizes as a hiring crisis, the factors that created it and how businesses will have to change to meet the challenge.
She said that Cape May County in particular, with its sparse populations compared to the beaches further north, depends on workers from the J-1 visa program, which brings thousands of international workers to the Jersey Shore.
The problem is expected to worsen in the very near future, said Denise Beckson, an executive at Morey’s Piers in Wildwood in South Jersey, which operates three piers and two water parks in the seaside resort town.
While employers have been able to tentatively rely on teenage workers and younger staff home from college for the summer break, they all begin to head back to their campuses in the coming weeks.
“We are losing staff daily due to college, returning to band camp, sports camp,” Beckson said. “They have other commitments, they have other obligations.”
She and others like O’Neill said they expect August to be particularly painful with the even further drop-off in staffing.
And that’s particularly worrisome for an industry that depends on the final weeks in August for a surge in tourist hankering to squeeze in a final shore visit before Labor Day weekend, Beckson said.
For an industry where between 2019 and 2020 the pandemic shaved off 29 million annual tourists and $17 billion in visitor spending, employers and business advocates on Tuesday said that could very well be their final nail in the coffin.
Memorial Day was a washout. Rain drenched the entire state and the Jersey Shore for most of the weekend, as the state embarked on its reopening during the first unofficial week of the summer season. “We’re hoping to put this behind us,” said Bob Cooper, head of Chef’s International, which owns a dozen restaurants along the Jersey Shore in Monmouth and Ocean counties. Other business owners told NJBIZ that pent-up demand drove visitors to the region in numbers not seen since before the pandemic.
Restrictions on businesses and public gatherings were lifted just before the weekend with the pandemic apparently waning as more residents get their COVID-19 vaccinations. Stadiums, bars and restaurants, gyms, amusement parks, retail outlets and many other businesses can operate at full capacity, and face coverings are no longer required for anyone fully inoculated.
“I think during the pandemic so many people adjust to outside weather activities … before you would go ‘no I’m not doing it’ now you venture out, you put the raincoat on and you still walk,” Michele Gillian, executive director of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce and one of the owners of Gillian’s Wonderland Amusement Pier, said in an interview.
Jeffrey Vasser, who heads the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism – which markets locations such as the Jersey Shore and Atlantic City casinos – agreed that optimism about the coming summer was widespread during the Memorial Day weekend along the 130-mile coastline. “Despite the bad weather, you can just see that there was just so much pent up demand for people to get out and get away and get back to some sense of normalcy,” he said.
Hotels, restaurants and indoor attractions all did well over the weekend, though Vasser admitted that outdoor attractions like the beach and amusement piers suffered during the rainier days.
Still, business owners have been wondering how they’ll navigate the final days of the pandemic and ensuing economic recovery. Jeremy DeFilippis, co-owner of JettyLife, a surf and skate apparel brand that operates a flagship store in Manahawkin on Long Beach Island and ships products to between 30 and 50 retailers across the state, said the transition to these latest reopenings has not been different given the already lax COVID-19 restrictions on retail compared to other industries. Jetty Life’s retail customers are “ordering more from us than ever before,” he said. “We’re looking to have probably the busiest summer ever on the Jersey Shore.”
But labor shortages and 15 months of supply chain disruption have caused headaches for employers. Many said they could not fully reopen. Marilyn Schlossbach, owner of the Schlossbach Group, which operates several restaurants on the Jersey Shore, said she was actually thankful for the rainy weather on the Memorial Day weekend. “If it was really nice … our staff would have been really overtaxed,” she said. “We’re not open full time anywhere because we don’t have enough people.”
That problem could continue into the summer, slowing the recovery. “It’ll be like last year when the cause for businesses not being open was because of the pandemic,” said Vicki Clark, head of the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce and past president of the New Jersey Tourism Industry Association. “This year, someone who might come for a day trip or just a weekend might go to their favorite restaurant or amusement and find that it’s not open.”
Vasser said he expects this summer to be much better than last year but cautioned that it could be a while before the region post numbers better than 2019. One reason: The labor shortage has stifled growth coming out of the pandemic. The exact cause of the problems is the subject of some dispute. Business owners and their allies in government contend that the $300 per week federal unemployment relief is keeping workers to stay at home where they could earn more than in the workplace.
Other observers suggest that issues like lack of childcare, especially as students continue virtual learning, could be preventing workers from going back. And labor rights groups contend that workers have declined to return because of subpar pay, poor treatment and health and safety concerns.
Another issue has been the backlog in the J-1 student visa applications, which in a non-pandemic year would contribute thousands of foreign exchange students to the Jersey Shore workforce. Thousands of such workers are employed in the state via the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. As the pandemic deepened and international travel fell off, then-President Donald Trump put a pause on the program. President Joe Biden reversed that action, but the backlog has prevented those visa workers from making up any significant chunk of the seasonal workforce this summer.
The shortages have business owners particularly wary, especially in the more sparsely populated Atlantic and Cape May counties in South Jersey. “The program is most popular in areas that have a small population,” Clark said. “Our year-round population is only 92,000, and that’s why it is so popular here.”
Denise Beckson, who heads human resources at Morey’s Pier in the Wildwoods, said the shortage posed a major problem last year for the four-pier boardwalk. Last year, one of the piers was closed, and a second one opened only at night because of limited staffing. The pier had 500 J-1 visa students in 2019, then just 90 in 2020. She estimated that they have roughly 85 students on hand who have secured visas.
Gillian did not have estimates for how many visa workers the city and boardwalk had on hand this year. She said there are more than 200 businesses in the entire boardwalk and downtown area that are frequented by tourists.
“They changed their business model, ‘we’re not open at 12, we’re open at 4’,” she said. “You’re not able to give the experience to so many people that want to do it during the day. It just really changes the business model.”
Cooper said the response at his restaurants has been to offer more limited menus and to raise prices “where it was necessary” because of increased labor costs and the difficulty in getting necessary supplies.
Schlossbach said she keeps her restaurants closed on weekdays that they would normally be kept open, so as to not burn out what few staff are still around. That means thousands of dollars in losses for a single day when the weather is nice. “I think a lot of people don’t understand what we’re going through. They’re so excited that we’re getting open and we’re getting back to business,” she said. “I can’t throw huge hourly increases or crazy money at them, but I can make sure that I don’t push them to the brink.”
Despite some of the state’s largest reopenings taking place over the past month ahead of Memorial Day weekend, many travel industry insiders still do not expect travel to exceed pre-pandemic levels.
The American Automobile Association estimates that 37 million people are expected to travel this coming holiday weekend, which they define as running May 27 to May 31.
While still 60% above Memorial Day travel numbers from last year, when much of the nation was still in the throes of COVID-19’s first wave and intense restrictions on travel and businesses, it’s ultimately 6 million fewer travelers than what AAA recorded in 2019.
Data for the 2020 tourism season has been rather dismal: A report released by the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism earlier this month found that visitation dropped 27% from a record-breaking 116 million in 2019 to 86.4 million in 2020.
Tourism spending dropped 37% from $46.4 billion in 2019 to $29.4 billion in 2020, breaking a decade of growth that began in 2009 following the Great Recession, the report found.
In 2021, labor shortages and issues with hiring workers threaten to derail recovery efforts for places like the iconic Jersey Shore.
This year, most of the travel will be via road rather than airplane, AAA suggested. And indeed United Airlines, which uses Newark Liberty International Airport as one of its major hubs in the nation, expects 1.3 million travelers throughout the U.S. this Memorial Day weekend, compared to 2.3 million travelers in 2019.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns Newark airport, the George Washington Bridge and the Hudson River tunnels, is expecting 4.3 million travelers across its facilities in the two states. That’s compared to 6 million travelers in 2019.
An estimated 2 million people used the New York City area airports in 2019, while that number has dropped to 920,000 expected passengers this weekend.
Jeffrey Vasser, who heads the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism, previously told NJBIZ that he expects summer tourism to places like the Jersey Shore or Atlantic City casinos would be driven by the “short-term drive market,” or those comfortable using a car with friends or family “they’ve been with all winter, versus an airplane.”
That means that places like New York, Pennsylvania, the Delmarva Peninsula, Washington, D.C. and southern New England have been the focus of marketing efforts.
Adam Sacks, president of Tourism Economics, which does the state’s annual tourism outlook survey each May, said that outdoor activities and accessibility to many of the East Coast’s population mega-centers could all count in the state’s favor this summer.
Business leaders and local officials up and down the state’s 141-mile Jersey Shore say they expect summer tourism to explode this year. They cite ramped up and steady COVID-19 vaccination efforts, the ability amid warmer weather to conduct more business outside where public health experts say the risk of viral transmission is much lower, and a general familiarity with the virus that was not present during the summer 2020 season while the state was still reeling from the first wave and a practical statewide shutdown.
“It’s just starting to pick up” on weekends, said Ben Rose, who heads marketing and public relations for the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Authority. The agency promotes tourism for the three Wildwood shore municipalities, and operates the 7,000-seat, 260,000-square-foot Wildwood Convention Center. “You can just see the activity on the boardwalk,” he continued.
Rose ticked off more than a dozen events planned for this summer and fall: music, food and other cultural festivals, along with major sports competitions. The Barefoot Country Music Festival on the beach is planned for Aug. 19 to 22, he said, and more than 40,000 tickets have already been sold. Residents and tourists will also have a smorgasbord of free events, boardwalk parades, Friday night fireworks, outdoor concerts and movies, and farmer’s markets every week this summer.
The Wildwood area in a non-COVID year benefits from scores of families flocking to the shore once school ends in mid-June. But Rose expects a much quicker influx of visitors as the weather gets warmer, given the remote work and school situation.
“Right now it’s almost impossible to get a rental. It’s busier now this time of year than it usually is,” said Nancy Taggart-Davis, mayor of the sleepy Long Beach Island borough of Beach Haven. “The weekend before Easter you couldn’t get a reservation at a restaurant.”
Tourists stayed at the shore much longer last year, well into early October – a phenomenon expected to be mirrored before Memorial Day this year – and repeat after Labor Day.
Jeffery Vasser, the executive director of the state’s Division of Travel and Tourism, indicated that the surge in summer rental usage this early in the year is a “good indicator” of things to come in the warmer weather. “Like last year, people are looking to get out and being outside is what people feel is safe,” he said in an interview. “I think people are certainly going to take advantage.”
In conversations with local leaders and business owners along the shore, the narrative that emerges is one of improved prospects. When the pandemic shutdowns took hold last year, the expectations for how the summer season would go were low. But as businesses began to reopen and the first wave began to subside, tourists rushed down to the shore to make up for lost time. “At the beginning of last year when it all started, we were in the same boat of not having any good … information on what’s happening. Everyone was in a panic mode and trying to hunker down,” said Toby Sweeney, who owns the Terrace Tavern and the Delaware Ave Oyster House in the Beach Haven Terrace section of Long Beach Township. “Business is going to boom this year. We kind of rely on that 10% of the year for 90% of the business.”
But that surge poses its own set of problems. Local businesses and municipal governments have spent years, sometimes decades, to fine-tune how they gear up for the summer season. Losses in revenue from reduced capacity, combined with waves of tourists, uncertain COVID-19 restriction prospects, and increased expenses from sanitization, have upended that model.
“Last year we had way more visitors than the town was probably prepared for,” said Monmouth Beach Mayor David Stickle. “We got hammered by all of the influx of everybody coming to the beach. So this year we’re anticipating the same large crowd and high attendance.”
Point Pleasant Beach Mayor Paul Kanitra said an influx of younger and even underage crowds to the shore town meant a much greater police presence: seasonal officers hired just for the summer. “We found massive amounts of them coming here, drinking in their cars, making their own parties and that really strained our police resources,” he said. “They’re definitely an increased cost.” And the cost of cleaning up more beach litter skyrocketed last year, he continued.
Officials in Asbury Park said the city lost revenue from limited beach badge sales, given that local governments still needed to enforce social distancing on the beaches. The city’s deputy mayor, Amy Quinn, estimated sales never went above 8,000 daily badges at an absolute maximum, compared to as high as 20,000 people during Fourth of July in a non-pandemic year.
Quieter days might produce closer to between 2,000 and 3,000 sales during the summer last year.
“We lost the most of any shore town in beach revenue, because we shut down the number of beach badges,” she said. “If it means to keep people safe, we’ll do it again.”
“My suspicion is that if you look at it across the board, it was probably down last year” for town finances, said Michael Cerra, who heads the New Jersey League of Municipalities. A loss in parking and beach badge revenue is bound to hit municipal budgets. “In terms of administration, it’s going to be the same,” he said. “I think the hope is that we move toward becoming more and more open and that might be offset or more than offset by more paying customers.”
Seasonal employers on the shore depend on a steady flow of J-1 visa summer exchange workers – students from other countries – each season in order to staff their attractions. Thousands of such workers are employed in the state via the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. As the pandemic deepened and international travel fell off, then-President Donald Trump put a pause on the program.
President Joe Biden reversed that action, but Lancellotti estimated a national backlog of roughly 300,000 applicants. “Those visas aren’t getting approved fast enough. A lot of the shore industry – the boardwalks, the amusements – they’re terribly worried about being able to open without enough staff… it’s for restaurants, it’s for hotels, and for venues,” she said in an interview. “If you don’t have the staff to cover that, you can’t open full force and if you’re not allowed to open your bar and you’re not allowed to have people less than 6 feet apart, you can’t fully reopen.”
Michele Siekerka, president and CEO of the New Jersey business & Industry Association, estimated that New Jersey relies on 5,000 such workers every year. “All of our schools are in sesson, so we don’t have a workforce for the pre-seasons or the postseason, pre-Memorial Day or post-Labor Day. We cannot recruit people to work just given school schedules,” she said. “It’s not like it was two decades ago, where you were working on the boardwalk.”
Denise Beckson, who heads human resources at Morey’s Pier in the Wildwoods, said the shortage posed a major problem last year for the four-pier boardwalk. “We think people will generally choose to stay closer to home” and visit local attractions like Morey’s, she said. “I think people saw that outdoor recreation was not as high risk as they may have feared.”
Beckson said Morey’s is rushing to find staff in the local area given the J-1 visa situation, but the limited population in the surrounding area limits that ability. Last year, one of the piers was closed, and a second one only opened at night, because of limited staffing.
Michele Gillian, who owns Gillian’s Wonderland Pier in Ocean City – which opened in 1929 – said she is trying to get in touch with the local job age population and get more people working, through such events as virtual job fairs. And they’re seeing an interest from older, typically retired area residents.
Sweeney said her restaurants have been able to rely on a steady supply of younger workers from the mainland, and from families that have begun moving into their summer rentals much earlier in the year.
Michael James said his decade-long business model of renting out an LED boat to tow billboards up and down the beaches on Brigantine and Cape May was pulverized last year. “Basically the beaches were closed, they didn’t allow people to hang out on the beaches. Subsequently the advertisers … decided not to renew many of the contracts we had, and by the time the beaches were allowed to be open and the boardwalk people started opening their stores and whatnot, it was too late,” he said in an interview. “So we still sailed, we had a few contracts, but not enough to really make ends meet.”
This year, he’s running a Tiki Bar boating option, that offers afternoon and evening cruises departing from Atlantic City. Cruises are limited to six people at a time, and James feels confident business will be strong this summer.
Scott Mizrahi, owner of Lola’s Cafe in Asbury Park, said the outdoor seating arrangement last year when the city closed down several downtown roads worked well for him. Mizrahi describes his establishment, which he’s owned for a decade, as a “really European cafe,” serving coffee, desserts and alcohol.
“[A]bout three Saturdays ago was one of the best days I ever had. If that’s any indication for the summer, we’re in for a good summer,” he said.
Vasser projected that travel to the New Jersey area will be largely fueled by the “short-term drive market,” or those comfortable using a car with friends or family “they’ve been with all winter, verus an airplane.” Think New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C. and parts of New England. So outreach has been focused heavily on those areas.
Vasser is not sure if it can make up entirely for last year’s losses. He estimated a 25% hit year over year between 2019 and 2020, when the state’s record-high 116 million shore visitors fell to roughly 88 million visitors last year.
Those three factors: a majority-outdoor activity market, proximity to large swaths of the major driven-in markets, and a sprawling rental market, make the Jersey Shore an increasingly attractive option, according to Adam Sacks, president of Tourism Economics, which does the state’s annual tourism outlook survey each May. “The shift away from urban destinations in the near term will benefit destinations like the Jersey shore as a large number of travelers seems to make good on lost travel among a smaller set of destinations,” he said in an email.
The lack of guidance for what COVID-19 restrictions will look like this summer has hindered planning, said Jeremy DeFilippis, owner of Jetty, a surf and skate apparel brand with its flagship store in Manahawkin at the mainland entrance to Long Beach Island.
Gov. Phil Murphy has not indicated what kinds of limits would be in place for the summer. But he set the goal of fully vaccinating 4.7 million New Jersey adults by the end of June, ahead of the July Fourth weekend. Despite setbacks with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, he and other public health officials remain confident that this goal is still feasible.
“No news on beaches, amusement parks or arcades, but I would expect they will be on a list of guidance that we’ll be providing as we turn toward the summer season,” he said during an April 14 daily COVID-19 briefing. Outdoor gatherings are limited to 250 people, while large venues with at least 2,500 seats are capped at 30% capacity outdoors and 15% capacity indoors.
Lancellotti said that is a problem for shore towns where “you got festivals that’ll draw 50,000 people to an area all through the summer and the spring and the fall as well, and we’re missing that gigantic piece.”
Most other restrictions for shore businesses have not been changed since last summer. Indoor and outdoor capacity at amusement parks and water parks is limited to 50%. Casinos are also restricted to 50% capacity, as are indoor dining and retail stores. Restaurants and bars cannot offer barside seating, but the prevalence of outdoor dining has helped keep many establishments afloat.
“Outdoor dining, we’re extending this year on the Ocean City boardwalk and downtown,” Gillian said. For places that sell pizza, ice cream or other typical boardwalk food, the boardwalk has seven dining pavilions. State rules require social distancing to be enforced, and for tables to be capped at eight people.
Hotels and motels do not have any capacity restrictions, but like any other business are bound to mask requirements, social distancing and sanitization protocols.
As home buyers seek new spaces, especially with working from home becoming more common, many are looking for a way to break out of pandemic lockdown and are flocking to the Jersey Shore to claim a spot by the sea. “Everyone feels better at the beach,” said Jodi Stasse, senior managing director of sales for Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group, the exclusive sales and marketing firm for the Asbury Ocean Club in Asbury Park.
The Asbury Ocean Club, the oceanfront residential building in Asbury Park, is celebrating a record year in sales volume and a strong start to 2021. With more than $50 million in sales over the last seven months of 2020 and a dozen contracts already out for 2021, the sales team anticipates this year will be a busy one. Last year, the building drew a significant increase in interest in large residences, with two closing at record-breaking prices above $5 million.
Stasse said that with all that Asbury Park has to offer, the city has become an affordable option for buyers looking to escape, and that many of the first to buy into AOC were doing so as a second home. Now, she is seeing the shift in thinking and the dwellings are being sought as primary residences.
Over 50% of Asbury Ocean Club’s duplex penthouses are already sold. The continued sales momentum at the building can be attributed to a number of factors but one of the most important is the year-round value offered to buyers – residents can enjoy luxurious oceanfront living 365 days a year.
“As prospects thought about how to plan an escape over the past 12 months, our buyers were looking for something accessible by car. Whether it was a lifestyle change or a temporary fulltime relocation, Asbury Ocean Club became an obvious solution,” Stasse said.
“Asbury Ocean Club offers an unparalleled luxury, hospitality-style residential experience and we’re thrilled to have seen such an overwhelming response from buyers, especially in the current market,” added Brian Cheripka, senior vice president, Land & Development of developer iStar.
The collection of uniquely planned residential homes offers effortless living, a boutique hotel, and an unprecedented suite of amenities. Located at 1101 Ocean Ave. in Asbury Park, the property, designed by Handel Architects and Anda Andrei Design, rises 17 stories above the Atlantic and offers spectacular views. The tower’s curves allow residences to enjoy 180–270 degree ocean views, wraparound terraces, and private outdoor rooms.
One of Asbury Ocean Club’s most important amenity spaces today is the business center with private offices, a meeting room, and state-of-the-art video conference capabilities. This setup has become an invaluable tool, especially to those working from home during the pandemic.
“We didn’t realize at the time how important this feature would be for our residents,” Cheripka said. “Because of our hotel component, we were also able to design a complete business center that offers an appropriate environment to conduct Zoom calls and virtual presentations, or to simply enjoy a private office-like escape to accomplish a full day’s work.”
In Long Branch, just a few miles north of Asbury Park, national real estate firm Extell Development Co. has been steadily selling units in its first New Jersey project: The Lofts Pier Village – another set of oceanfront condominiums.
The Lofts Pier Village also offers the seaside lifestyle and oceanfront escape and brings the luxury, water views, and suite of indoor and outdoor amenities. Designed by Shore Point Architecture with interiors by The Childs Dreyfus Group, The Lofts Pier Village features 245 residences, each with floor-to-ceiling windows, open layouts, and private outdoor terraces, as well as custom finishes and high level of design. Many residences also include home office spaces.
Pier Village itself just completed a new phase of its retail offerings with a fresh increase of dining and shopping options and public recreational amenities, including an outdoor stage for live entertainment, a seasonal ice-skating rink, beachside shade structures, and complimentary bike racks. The development also features a one-of-a-kind custom handcrafted, wooden, indoor/outdoor carousel commissioned by Extell, which offers rides year-round. The attraction provides entertainment for families.
Only an hour’s drive from New York City and completely drivable from most New Jersey towns, Asbury Park and Long Branch are popular oceanfront escapes. Rail access is available via a shuttle service that takes residents directly to the nearby New Jersey Transit train station, offering an additional convenient travel option.
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