Summer 2018 a ‘Season of Extremes’ for Local Businesses

Wet and Challenging Season, But No One’s Going to Starve
By JON COEN | Sep 05, 2018
Photo by: Kyle Gronostajski It was a summer of extremes, including a lot of rain and other challenges among an otherwise strong season for LBI businesses.

The beaches looked a little empty on Tuesday. Traffic was light. There was only a short line for a nitro cold brew. Another season is over on Long Beach Island, and businesses are running the numbers to see how they fared through this crucial time of year. The consensus is that it was challenging and the Island demographic is changing, but it was still a strong year.

Each year, the state releases a Tourism Economic Study that gives both broad findings and specific statistics of the previous year. 2017 represented the seventh year in a row that the state’s tourism industry had grown. At $38.7 billion, it represented 6.7 percent of the state’s entire economy. The shore counties contributed to about half of that.

The U.S. economy continues on the same steady growth since 2010, and the unemployment rate is about 3.9 percent. The 2018 tourism study won’t be released for another six months, but many Island folk already have an idea of what this summer was like.

“There are two conversations going on – one is the regional economy, which includes home sales, professional services, and overall growth,” said Lori Pepenella, CEO of the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce. “The other is seasonal. Local businesses have a time to draw spending from visitors. The regional economy is doing fantastic. We have job growth, demand for property and new businesses opening or expanding. But overall, the 2018 tourism season is showing a small uptick from last year.”

As Dana DiSalvio, owner of the Sandbox Café in both Surf City and Ship Bottom, put it, “It was a summer of extremes.”

It certainly had extreme rain, extreme heat, slow periods and windfall revenues.

Pepenella was quick to point out, “Wet weather all spring gave the summer a slow start and fast finish.”

Southern Regional High School graduate, founder of WeatherNJ.com and self-described weather enthusiast Jonathan Carr broke down some of the summer 2018 weather statistics for The SandPaper this week.

Anayzing data from a Brant Beach weather station, he noted only three weekends without measurable rainfall. The 11 other weekends since Memorial Day had rain. Five weekends exceeded a half inch of rain, which is considerable. One weekend exceeded a full inch. He noted there may have been additional downpours in other parts of the Island not picked up on this gauge.

“Long Beach Island did not see as much quantity of rain as eastern Pennsylvania; however, the timing had a horrible impact on weekend outdoor plans. Only three weekends were rain-free this summer. I suspect this was due to the southerly flow requiring some time over land for diurnal heating to condense the water vapor into precipitation. I remember noticing this on satellite water vapor loops,” shared Carr.

“This concurs with my weekend outlook data going back to June 1 of this year. Almost every weekend was just unsettled enough to worry about outdoor plans. I believe this hurt LBI’s tourism industry, especially the day-trippers and weekenders. The Saturday-Saturday rentals seemed somewhat normal, although I remember larger volume growing up.”

He noted the weather phenomenon known as the Bermuda High was very dominant this summer with a constant area of convergence between high and low pressure between New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

“June was tough. The weather really did have an effect,” said Jesse Westmacott, who helps manage all three Farias Surf and Sport locations on the Island. The shop is well established on the Island over the last 50 years.

“In June we rely more on day-trippers and weekend crowds, and that was flat. It was really hard to get those seasonal items started, like sunglasses and trunks. Especially the men’s apparel. Men are more ‘at once’ buyers when the weather gets nice. Women tend to plan their purchases.”

But by July 4, Westmacott said, “It was on. We had a rebound, and it was overall a fantastic summer.”

DiSalvio has a very good perspective on the weather because her Ship Bottom eatery is completely outdoors and her Surf City eatery is completely indoors.

“At 6 a.m., we have to decide if we’re going to have everyone come in and start making food at Ship Bottom or not. It’s really hard to get that going and then turn it all down. We had a lot of days we just didn’t open,” she explained. “The weekend weather at the beginning was just horrible.”

She explained they opened the second location in Surf City two years ago because there’s too much at risk with the weather and it’s too hard to keep people employed when they don’t know if they’re working or not.

“We were supposed to open the weekend before Memorial Day, and we couldn’t because the weather was so bad. So we had no practice going into the season. We just had to open on Memorial Day weekend with two kids I had just trained.”

Often just forecasts for bad weather was enough to hurt business.

Surf Buggy Bikes in Surf City and Beach Haven owner Doug Lawler added there really didn’t seem to be a spring season.

“We went from winter to summer in June. Early on was a little slow with the rainy weekends. But for July and August, I have no complaints at all.”

Weather can really hurt the hotel business. Unlike rentals that are secured in advance, hotel travelers will book more based on the forecast.

“May was definitely off,” said Patrick Kelly of the Coral Seas Oceanfront in Beach Haven. “When we get so much rain like that, it’s the worst. June was a little off, but the Hop Sauce Festival helped.” His last-minute travelers were few early season, and many guests cancelled reservations when they saw the forecast.

“July was a little quiet during the week. Every year, there’s a slow down after July 4, but this year it lasted four or five weeks. Then, August is August. People are fighting over rooms. But overall, we did OK,” he added.

The weather made a busy season even busier for Dave’s Electric in Brant Beach. The business has been growing steadily since 1994. Although they do work all over the state, their locally based demand is non-stop.

“Usually by the last week of summer things start to slow down, but I couldn’t get off the phone last week. I talked to probably 100 people in a day setting things up for September,” said Office Manager Erin Daum.

The erratic weather actually helped their business, particularly the lightning storms in July.

“We had a lot of people calling because of surges. They lost their appliances, then would have surge protectors installed to avoid that happening again.”

Another big factor that many businesses reported was the weekdays were strangely slow (especially Mondays and Tuesdays), and late-week and the weekend saw record numbers.

“Our Ship Bottom location is more of a destination,” DiSalvio said. “It’s quirky. People want to sit outside and listen to the funky music. So if the weather’s nice, there will always be people. I see them lining up when it’s 95 degrees,” she explained. “But Surf City is more of a traditional restaurant. I would be in there on a Monday or Tuesday and think ‘Oh my god. Where is everybody?’ But then on weekends, we’re blown out of the water. We haven’t even been able to turn over to lunch because we’re still serving breakfast at 1 or 1:30.”

Some Mondays they did 60 breakfasts, but by the weekend, they would be doing 300. DiSalvio attributes that to fewer people renting out their homes or being down for the whole summer. She sees the traditional Saturday to Saturday rental market shrinking back a bit. But the homes are full all weekend, every weekend.

Daum also works part time for a friend’s boutique in Beach Haven and noticed far less walking traffic on Mondays and Tuesdays than the town is accustomed to.

“I’m seeing more second homeowners now than renters,” said Lawler. “It seems that a lot of the traditional duplexes have been torn down for single-family homes.”

That would tend to reflect the same change that owners and managers have reported in the demographic.

“People are coming in and buying all the gear at once. They’ll buy four beach cruisers at a time and then maybe four paddleboards for the entire family,” observed Westmacott.

According to all of our sources, overall, the summer customer base has more money. As Maria Scandale’s article noted in last week’s issue of The SandPaper, real estate is back on the rise. Roberta Brackman, a broker-salesperson at Pacesetter Realty, noted that median home values are “back to or above Superstorm Sandy” numbers. There’s a focus on luxury homes and new construction.

Pepenella also pointed to other factors.

“The segment of independent leisure travelers, which is 95 percent who we cater to, has been adapting habits that are offered through smart technology for the past few years. It’s now impacting how they plan vacation and what they do when they are down here – even how they transport themselves and to splitting the tab. Trends for increased last-minute gatherings or get-aways are growing the demand for retailers, restaurants and accommodations to be able to respond to little or no lead time requests to remain competitive in the time-maneuvering schedules of today’s consumer.”

Westmacott said Farias is adapting in response to a changing retail landscape.

“It’s so easy for people to buy stuff online, so we’re focusing even more on customer interaction, that next-level service that you can’t get from a website. We just want to stoke them with service.”

And while the summer was solid, the local economy could see another boost in the short term.

Kelly said the Coral Seas Motel is fully booked every weekend in September.

“September and October have been showing stronger returns every year,” added Pepenella, “and there seems to be an extreme enthusiasm for the upcoming fall to start. This will draw people back who want to enjoy their favorite places with less traffic.”

joncoen@thesandpaper.net

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