The transformer Slowly but surely, Curtis Bashaw has helped change Cape May

Anjalee Khemlani//October 31, 2016//

The transformer Slowly but surely, Curtis Bashaw has helped change Cape May

Anjalee Khemlani//October 31, 2016//

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Developer Curtis Bashaw has spent more than 20 years helping to transform Cape May.

Between restoring inns, creating a business incubator and managing a farm, Bashaw has helped the former whaling town recognized as the country’s oldest seashore resort become a thriving mix of a vintage village and the millennial spirit.

Now, he feels Cape May is ready for the spotlight. Ready to become the Hamptons of New Jersey.

“In this East Coast megalopolis, my feeling is, Cape May’s star is rising,” he said. “I feel like Cape May is on the cusp of sort of rivaling a Nantucket or a Martha’s Vineyard or a Charleston or some of those more nationally known (locations).”

For Bashaw, it’s more than just a feeling. It’s an investment.

He is co-founder and co-managing partner of Cape Resorts Group and Cape Advisories, the companies that develop and operate his various properties based in Cape May, and runs an investment fund — called, simply, The Fund — which has a current market cap of $14 million.

The Fund, which is a combination of his own and other local businesses’ investments, has been used to partner with entrepreneurs in the West End Garage, his incubator space.

Through The Fund, commercial space is purchased and, rather than a traditional landlord-tenant relationship, entrepreneurs are offered low rents in exchange for a small percentage of profits. The town gets new business. Bashaw feels it’s a win for everyone.


Bashaw’s put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is attitude about Shore communities has been well-documented over time.

From his first renovation of The Virginia inn in 1995, to his appointment to the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority in Atlantic City under Gov. Jim McGreevey in 2005 to his renovation of The Chelsea hotel in A.C. in 2008 and finally the West End Garage in 2011, there appears to be a master plan.

In reality, it’s been just as much an unintended consequence of his success.

WEG was supposed to be a headquarters office space for his companies, but, after the economic slump eight years ago, he and his partner decided the expansion wasn’t needed.

And focusing on the retail experience in Cape May stemmed from an interest in the long-term success of his five local hotels: Congress Hall, The Virginia, Beach Shack, The Star and The Sandpiper Beach Club.

But over the past decade, as many of the small shop owners in the resort failed to transfer ownership to the next, often fourth, generation, Bashaw said he became nervous about what would take the place of the shuttered shops.

“There are two or three people that own multiple properties here that are absentee landlords,” he said. “So they’ll be less sensitive to the historic ambiance to the inside of the store. More often than not, they’ll make it a T-shirt or trinket shop. So, we were noticing a disparity in the quality of the hotel and (bed and breakfast) products, and the retail experience.”

Bashaw doesn’t view himself as a savior. In fact, he credits others before him for helping make Cape May what it is today.

Learning from the town’s history, Bashaw credits the previous generation’s preservation — rather than razing and rebuilding — as a reason for success, along with the changes of current businesses.

That lesson, he said, cannot be lost.

“You can’t ever rest on your laurels; any place that does always gets caught off guard,” Bashaw said, recapping the history of the resort from the late 1800s to the rise of the Wildwoods to Atlantic City’s gaming era.

“In the late 1800s, Cape May was the queen of seaside resorts; people were making money hand over fist. They didn’t pay attention to what was happening in the world.”

Since then, Bashaw said Atlantic City had its surge in popularity, as did the Wildwoods, with their motel boom.

“Who would’ve thought, 80 years ago, that Atlantic City would be a wasteland?” Bashaw asked.


Bashaw doesn’t feel like Cape May has been affected by the downturn in gaming.

If anything, tough times have been a bit of a help, as there has been more of a trend toward staycations since 9/11 and the financial crisis.

“We’re the alternate charming town to the big city,” he said.

Tracking ZIP codes from customers backs that up. Bashaw said more than 50 percent of his guests come from New York City, southeastern Connecticut, Long Island and North Jersey. He said he also has a considerable volume of guests from the greater Philadelphia and South Jersey area, followed by a “smattering” of guests from the greater Washington, D.C., area.

Societal shifts have helped, too.

Bashaw has noticed that, as families have become less nuclear, Cape May has become more of a traditional holiday spot.

He said that, while the resort used to be a summer family spot and non-summer romantic weekend getaway, it has now seen a resurgence of families for the holidays. Which is why Bashaw feels an urban vibe for Cape May area, while still preserving its historic, vintage feel, is the key to success.

It’s not a hard sell to get entrepreneurs, Bashaw said.

“I think a lot of these big cities are priced out,” he said, pointing to the Cape May Brewing Co., run by a former New Yorker, which is now exporting its wares.

But he has also actively sought to introduce students at the local high school to the idea of owning a small business. His Beach Plum Farm is used to host networking events for the community and students.

And this is just one of many new uses Bashaw has found for the farm.

He conceived a farm-to-table idea before it was a buzzword, and just this month extended the idea to a prix-fixe dinner and tour for guests of his inns.

The idea was based off of reclaiming the Garden State’s South Jersey history, Bashaw said, as he recalled how Campbell Soup Company chose New Jersey for its tomatoes, back when South Jersey was all farming. Over time, that got supplanted and smaller family farms went out of vogue, but soon corporate farms in Iowa became more expensive than land in South Jersey.

“The trend of people being more aware of where their food comes from and wanting to be close (to home for vacation is great for us),” he said. “We’re one gas tank away from the East Coast megalopolis, which has 25 percent of the U.S. population.

“I think this farmland has got some promise,” he said of the Beach Plum Farm, which is roughly two miles away from the town center.

It began as a source of produce for restaurants near his inns in the resort: The Ebbitt Room in downtown Cape May, Blue Pig Tavern at the Congress Hall inn and Rusty Nail at the Beach Shack. 

He hopes to inspire a new generation to carry the torch moving forward.

“Change is going to happen, it’s all about,” he said. “You can stand on the sidelines and watch change happen, or you can make change.”

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