Consultant: Beach Haven Needs Change to Sustain Economic Growth

Online Visitor Survey Discussed
Dec 13, 2017

If Beach Haven is going to be successful in its goal of becoming “an even better place to shop, dine, stay and play,” the community will have to embrace change.

That was the main point of James Maley Jr., a consultant who spoke at a special borough-wide forum last Thursday. Speaking to a full audience in the meeting room of the municipal building located in the old Coast Guard station, Maley said people who have lived the longest in the community are most likely to resist change.

“The people who visit the community are the ones who will have an idea what needs to be improved,” said Maley. “The hardest part is telling people that this change will be for the better. But if you don’t change, you die.”

Maley said that one tool for economic growth is a redevelopment plan, in which a vacant site can be rehabilitated and turned into a residential or commercial entity.

“You need to invest in yourselves because there aren’t any grants,” said Maley. “The state is pretty much broke anyway. There is no magic in this.”

Councilman Donald Kakstis, who moderated the forum and heads the borough’s Beach Haven Economic Development Team, said the borough has gone the redevelopment route with a property at 500 North Bay Ave. For decades it served as the borough’s post office, but after closing more than 10 years ago, it was the site of several businesses before becoming vacant two years ago. Local developer William Burris recently purchased the building and is looking to put in four retail stores and have a second floor for five condominiums.

Maley is familiar with issues facing towns and economic growth as he has served as mayor for Collingswood since 1989. He said the community has a “Collingswood Cash” gift card program that promotes local shopping.

“It has been very successful,” he said. “I don’t know that will work here, but it is an example of something that we tried. We took a chance and it worked out.”

Maley said that because Beach Haven relies heavily on tourism, special events and festivals can help businesses prosper during the “shoulder season,” or that period between the high and low seasons of a travel destination.

“Chowderfest has worked really well,” said Maley. “But it is also possible to have smaller festivals and special events on other weekends. A key is coordination and businesses and organizations working together with the borough.”

Kakstis said an initial step in revitalization was to understand the customer base. Over the summer, people who live, work, shop and visit Beach Haven took an online survey over the summer, examining dining, shopping, entertainment and recreation venues among other topics. The question, “What would you recommend to make Beach Haven better?” was asked throughout the survey.

Joe Getz of the JGSC group discussed results of the survey, which drew 1,501 responses, with 70 percent of the respondents aged 55 or more. Sixty-five percent of the respondents were from New Jersey, with 14 percent from Pennsylvania and another 10 percent from New York. Fifty percent currently own a home in Beach Haven and 48 percent have interest in buying a home in the borough.

For dining, 66 percent said they never eat in a restaurant off the Island. The most popular venues were full-service sit-down restaurants and places serving ice cream and snacks.

“The restaurants that they would like to see were ones offering waterfront dining or Chinese food,” said Getz.

With shopping, the stores visited most often were Hand’s, Murphy’s Marketplace, B&B Department Store and Acme. Stores that they would like to see more of included high-end clothing, shoes, boutiques and pet stores.

Getz said what they liked best about Beach Haven was bike riding, the small town feel, shopping and dining and walking around town.

“What they like least was vehicle traffic, crowds, lack of parking and fading visual appeal,” said Getz.

In addition, Getz said 148 businesses were interviewed face-to-face, with the types of businesses including full service/limited serviced dining, snacks, hospitality, entertainment, grocery, clothing and accessories, gifts, personal services and traditional retail.

“Most businesses said this season was the best since Sandy,” said Getz. “A few said business was off slightly.”

He said the businesses noticed changes in the consumer base, such as “seeing more larger homes, second homeowners, weekend warriors and fewer consumers.” They saw fewer smaller homes, short-time visitors, day-trippers and large households.

To attract more visitors, Getz said the businesses raved about the LBI shuttle.

“Besides bringing tourists, it also brings employees,” he said. “There is also strong support to expand the shuttle to the west (the mainland). Another way to enhance appeal to visitors is having streetscapes and uniform building facades, while still keeping the feel of a small maritime district.”

There was a strong support for more special events.

“Many businesses would like to see these events happen on weekends through Thanksgiving,” said Getz. “And then you can have town-wide holiday events.”

He said almost every business supported building up Beach Haven as a wedding destination.

“That can attract a large amount of people into town for a weekend,” said Getz.

Under the direction of the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce, Stockton University conducted face-to-face interviews with approximately 775 tourists during the summer in a Profile of the Long Beach Island Region Visitor. Bryan J. Tyrrell, Stockton professor of hospitality and tourism management, said the most significant life stage (family life cycle) was found to be “affluent mature,” which made up 47 percent of the people interviewed. Tyrrell defined affluent mature as 55 years of age and older with a household income of more than $75,000.

Next was “affluent family” (ages 35 to 54 with household income $75,000 or higher) at 17 percent and moderate mature (55 years or older with income less than $75,000) at 14 percent.

“This is very good news for the LBI region as these top two life stage segments, as previously mentioned, account for visitors with higher disposable income and time,” said Tyrrell.

“Affluent mature” also accounted for nearly 50 percent of the overnight leisure visitors. Statewide, the percentage is approximately 25 percent.

In measuring visitor satisfaction levels, 87 percent “were very satisfied” with the LBI region, and just 12 percent were “somewhat satisfied.”

According to the study, young families and the young and free (both ages 18 to 34) spent the most on lodging. Affluent family and the maturing and free (ages 35 to 54 years) spent the most on food and beverage expenditure. Young families spent more on shopping and moderate matures spent the most on transportation.

“In general, the young families spent more than other visitors,” Tyrrell said.

Tyrrell said he would provide a more detailed report at the chamber’s State of the Chamber meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 10 at the Mainland Holiday Inn in Manahawkin.

— Eric Englund

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