Extending Jersey Shore’s summer after COVID-19 gets mixed reviews

Seaside Heights, other Shore towns tried to lure crowds to beaches by keeping lifeguards on duty after Labor Day

Lucky Leo’s Manager Arron Rustici opened up the venerable arcade on Seaside Heights’ boardwalk hoping for customers, but unsure of what to expect during the post-season period following a COVID-19-crossed summer down the Jersey Shore.

“I would say that the crowds are limited,” he said. “Every day, we talk. We have to figure out, do we open later and do we close earlier? We’re still trying to figure out what the new normal is.”

“I’m sure it’s a very tough year. Especially, I feel bad for all the businesses because of what’s happened,” East Windsor resident Mike Cheesman said.

“It’s slow. Everybody’s taking a beating, financially,” Toms River resident Jack Holroyd said.

To boost local businesses hurt by the pandemic, Seaside Heights along with more than a dozen other Shore towns tried to lure crowds to beaches by keeping lifeguards on duty even after Labor Day.

No, it didn’t work. People are coming down when they would normally come down,” Doug Woodfield, owner of the Twisted Fish, said.

Woodfield has run his retail shop since 1969.

“It’s our fall season and we’re doing all right. But I don’t think leaving the beaches open is helping at all. Retail did OK, but all the bars and restaurants were way, way, way off. The arcades were way off. The rides were way off,” he said.

Rough surf, chilly weather didn’t help

Seaside Heights Mayor Anthony Vaz said rough surf and chilly temperatures prompted the town to limit lifeguards this September to weekends-only. Businesses got caught in the middle.

“I think some of them have done well, and others haven’t. It depends on what the attraction was and what did they put into it. Some of them couldn’t get help so that caused another problem,” he said. “The weather wasn’t with us; the weather was against us. We had rain, then we had the storms coming from the Florida, Bahamas area and that curtailed people coming down.”

Traditionally, September is the Jersey Shore’s “shoulder season,” drawing crowds mostly on nice weekends. But vacation patterns that started shifted this summer are apparently continuing beyond Labor Day.

“This year we couldn’t go to London, which was the plan, so we’re coming here instead but that’s great. Even not during COVID times, it’s really the best time to come to the beach. It’s not crowded. It’s not hot. And we pretty much have the whole beach to ourselves,” Pennsylvania resident Mary Miller said.

“I get away from New York City, go to the beach, the city’s horrible with the crime and everything,” New York resident Bruce Morris said.

“Rentals were actually up. Because what happened was, a lot of people from New York, Philadelphia, they were stuck there in the cities and they came here. And that was their reprieve,” said Ocean Appraisal owner Rich Banach.

“People stayed a little longer than they would have. Schools weren’t starting right away. A lot of people had to get back by August first years ago when sports started, but sports didn’t start this year,” Toms River resident Nancy Banach said.

“I think it was really wise to try to extend the summer season and I think people are looking for somewhere to go. New Jersey is one of the safe states where you can travel to, because if you leave New Jersey you don’t have to quarantine for two weeks,” said Jane Bokunewicz, coordinator of the Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Stockton University.

Bottom line, she says, some businesses benefited; others, not so much. The numbers aren’t in yet. But creativity, like maximizing outdoor dining, definitely helps. So does taking a long view. Lucky Leo’s is busy decorating for Halloween.