Cloudy skies and cool temperatures greeted early boardwalk strollers and beachgoers down the shore on Memorial Day — traditionally the summer season’s opening weekend. In Monmouth and Ocean Counties, the holiday capped a drizzly Saturday and chilly Sunday that further dampened crowds already suppressed by social distancing due to COVID-19.
Beach attendant Tim Whitley said, “The people are kind of afraid to come out, you know. I mean, we’ve been quarantined since May, right?”
At Mamaluke’s Pizza in Belmar, owner Tom Roger figured business was down 75%. Just a couple of customers, instead of the usual long line, waited for slices.
“The virus certainly impacted our business. Families didn’t come down. But it’s cold out, you know? It’s just not beach weather,” he said.
Certainly the sun did shine further south this weekend, drawing quarantine-fatigued folks to boardwalks in Ocean City and Wildwood. In Asbury Park, not so much.
The owner of Eddie’s Confetti, Eddie Catalano, remarked, “Friday, Saturday, Sunday we are probably at just under 50% of what we’d normally do on a Memorial Day weekend.”
Jersey Shore tourism employs more than 230,000 people, but Confetti’s ice cream stand cut this summer’s staff in half and inventory by a third expecting the worst. After 16 years in business, he is trying to anticipate the new normal.
“I’ve kind of come to terms this year, that if I can break even and pay the bills it’ll be a successful year,” Catalano said.
Last year tourism pumped $46 billion into New Jersey’s economy and 48% of that came from the shore. But empty beaches equals empty cash registers.
Gov. Phil Murphy, who tweeted from the Seaside Heights boardwalk Saturday, has insisted on a slow reopening that sparked pushback Monday in Point Pleasant Beach.
Republican Sen. Joe Pennacchio asked “Am I the only knucklehead here? No!” About 150 people railed against Murphy’s order that lets big chains reopen but forces small shops to do curbside business. Pennacchio continued, “It doesn’t make any sense. And since when do we curb our businesses? We curb our dogs, governor, we don’t curb our businesses.”
But the governor told CNN, it’s still a health risk inside small shops, “I don’t begrudge their right to protest but they don’t sway me. The only thing that sways me are the facts and the data and the science. We’re not there, yet. I want to do it responsibly. I don’t want to kill anybody.”
While the shore weather will improve, the political forecast remains turbulent.