OCEAN COUNTY – Summer tourism depends on an active business community. It is hard to have an active business community in a pandemic which has caused many businesses to shut down, and limitations on how to open.
Seaside Heights Mayor Anthony Vaz said of this year’s summer season that it is perhaps worse than the disastrous summer of 2013 where the boardwalk had seen devastating damage from Superstorm Sandy.
Vaz said this year’s conditions have cut revenue figures from the beach and parking meters in half. That means a loss of around $400,000. “That is a great deal of money. We have to look at our budget review now with our auditors and we have to strike a tax balance.”
“Summer for me really began in March with the virus which caused us to make a lot of changes. Budgetary changes, venue changes as far as what we were going to do for the community and the tourist trade, cancellations, employment, and things that made priorities that we had never considered before,” the mayor added.
“We managed to get through the season and we are extending our season. It was a season that was slow in the beginning. In June we started to open the rentals with hotels, apartments and then we had certain food take outs only. Once the arcades and the rides opened there was a fluctuation.”
The mayor said when he and other officials spoke with members of the business community and residents “they shared their hard times and one businessman who I respect very highly told me it is better to make some money than to make no money at all.”
With the change in budget and the borough’s anticipated revenue at 50% down for the boardwalk, parking meters and the beach, “that is a lot of revenue to lose. When people started coming back in the latter part of June and the start of July I think the morale picked up and things felt better,” the mayor said.
Mayor Vaz added, “we had people very, very concerned about the virus and we had people who were concerned but still wanted to go out and we had some people who said ‘I don’t care I want to go back to normal.’ We never had these words like ‘social distancing’ before. Products that the normal person couldn’t get like plexiglass was difficult to get because everybody wanted it at once.”
“We trained our personnel to make sure they were safe,” the mayor said noting that some workers within the town didn’t want to go back to work “not only because of the virus but they were getting money from the federal government and the state and were making more than they would as summer employees.”
“That was another problem we faced as a town and the business community faced the same problem. We’re going to see what we can do to lower the budget so we don’t crush the taxpayer,” the mayor added.
“In my eyes this is worse that Superstorm Sandy. With Sandy we could see what we had to do with the infrastructure, the rebuilding of houses in the community but this was invisible. It is something we can’t see or correct. It can only be corrected by modern medicine and technology and we are just ordinary people running a community. It is a little different than fixing up a road,” Mayor Vaz said.
Arisa Sykes of Manchester works at a piercing business on the boardwalk and noted that this summer, “I started at the end of June. It has been different but it has been pretty steady because I feel nobody had anything to do. I think it will be weird because a lot of kids are not in school and a lot of people are still not working so we are trying to gauge how September will be.”
Seaside Heights isn’t the only community to extend their beach season. Toms River Township is also stretching out their beach season for a few more weekends. Mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill said that he and the Township Council decided to keep beaches open through September 27.
“We hope our residents and visitors will take advantage of our beaches and enjoy some beautiful September weather,” the mayor said.
During Labor Day the Ortley Beach section of the township maintained its staff of lifeguards and will do so for three weekends following the holiday. This marks the first time township officials have kept guards on duty following the unofficial conclusion of summer.
Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Lori A. Pepenella, said “the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce has worked with our business community and consumers throughout the pandemic, providing resources to help plan for a safe summer in the Long Beach Island Region with our Welcome By Land & Sea initiative.”
“The challenges for our small businesses have been ongoing, with adjustments in restrictions as well as meeting heightened demand for this season. We saw increased interest in vacation rentals, lodging, dining, self-care and essential goods starting in the spring that is holding strong,” she added.
“Traditional activities presented by Long Beach Island Foundation, Surf Light Theatre and Albert Music Hall have adapted to meet social distance requirements. The LBI Ferry also continued to run between Tuckerton Seaport and Beach Haven all summer as scheduled with limited capacity,” Pepenella said.
She said, “our visitor center installed an information window so we were able to operate in compliance as well, speaking with newly relocated residents, first time vacationers and road trippers on a daily basis.”
Pepenella added, “with work and school schedules still in flux, we are looking for opportunity in the fall to help businesses recoup the quarantine orders of the spring. To build that momentum, and provide travel with purpose, the region has responded by creating more chances to enjoy local favorites with Chowderfest extended into a month to drive direct traffic to restaurants and merchants, extended guarded beach schedules, and longer runs for farmers markets.”