It’s not unusual for Bay Head’s population to boom on Easter weekend. Many families that own second homes here typically descend on the borough to celebrate the holiday. But when they did so this year, it was in defiance of Governor Phil Murphy’s directive for all but locals to stay away from the Shore—part of the state’s efforts to flatten the coronavirus curve.
East Avenue, a 1.8-mile stretch that parallels the ocean in Bay Head and heads south into Mantoloking, was particularly lively on Easter Sunday, with walkers and joggers braving the blustery but sunny weather. An informal count on East Avenue and its neighboring streets revealed 35 cars with New York license plates, 10 from Pennsylvania, seven from Connecticut, six from Florida, and others from Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Texas, California and Illinois. Of course, there were Jersey plates, too, some on cars presumably driven to Bay Head by owners of second homes there.
“It’s not fair,” says one full-time Bay Head resident who asked not to be named. “They’re bringing their germs down here. Then they’re taking our germs back up with them.”
Locals and officials up and down the Shore are voicing similar concerns about the early arrival of second-home owners, some of whom are opting to shelter in place at their Shore homes rather than at their primary digs elsewhere in New Jersey or the surrounding states.
At a March 21 press briefing in Newark, Murphy admonished part-time residents to stay away from their beach homes during the current coronavirus state of emergency, according to press reports. Murphy warned that an influx of part-timers would tax the Shore’s off-season infrastructure, including hospitals and other health-care facilities.
Many Shore locals depend on vacationers and weekenders for their livelihoods, but that hasn’t blunted the anger of some. “We could lose the summer here because of people feeling entitled,” says Point Pleasant resident Ray Pokorny. “They somehow feel entitled to come to their second homes every weekend, despite the governor’s directive.”
“I don’t understand what people don’t understand,” says Bay Head Mayor Bill Curtis. “Stay at home.”
Curtis is particularly concerned about visitors who go back and forth every weekend. “We don’t know where they’ve been, who they’ve been in contact with,” he says.
To discourage weekend visitors, Bay Head and Mantoloking have closed their beaches, stringing yellow crime-scene tape across beach entrances. Mantoloking is enforcing no parking on East Avenue, making it difficult for visitors to get to the waterfront. This week, Bay Head instituted a no-parking rule within two blocks of the beach.
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Further south, the borough of Avalon issued its own directive, temporarily prohibiting non-essential visitation to second homes. Scott Wahl, the borough’s business administrator and public information officer, says Avalon is home to just over 1,000 people in the off-season. During the summer, that number increases to more than 30,000, including property owners, vacationers and day-trippers.
“In spring time of year, the local infrastructure is not meant to support a huge volume of people; for instance, the grocery stores,” Wahl says. “If all of a sudden there’s a rush here, there’s just not enough product to go around.”
Wahl says most of Avalon’s secondary homeowners had “embraced” the spirit of the town’s edict, but there are still some who are using their Avalon properties to shelter during the crisis.
In Sea Girt, Mayor Ken Farrell says despite the governor’s order, his borough has seen an influx of out-of-towners in recent weeks. Most, however, have kept to themselves, he adds.
Farrell says he will tighten local regulations as necessary if people do not adhere to social-distancing precautions. But he sympathizes with those whose secondary home down the Shore is “better than being holed up in an apartment in New York…I really would have a hard time denying that to them.”
Marci Lederman, a full-time Bradley Beach resident for 18 years, has mixed feelings about the influx of secondary homeowners.
“I feel that maybe they should have stayed put and not brought whatever they were bringing from wherever they were to our supermarkets and our hospitals,” she says. But Lederman understands the complications in asking people to stay away. “They do pay taxes like everybody else, so it’s hard to tell somebody, ‘You can’t come here.’”
Meredith Tierno Budinich, a fourth-grade special-education teacher who splits her time between Bradley Beach and Harrington Park, says the pandemic hasn’t much changed her family’s year-round schedule of weekend and holiday visits to the Shore. “We feel like we are not endangering anyone,” she says. “We’re not going out. We’re partaking in local takeout, so we’re supporting small businesses. So, yeah, we should be allowed.”
Indeed, the handful of Shore businesses that remain open under the governor’s guidelines have likely benefitted from the off-season visitors.
“Easter weekend was particularly busy,” says Mark Bernard, general manager at Charlie’s of Bay Head, a restaurant and bar doing curbside pickup and local delivery. “The traffic on Saturday was crazy, almost like a summer day.” Bernard reports that Charlie’s is doing about “25 to 30 percent of normal business” during the shutdown. His kitchen is also providing meals for the entire staff. “We gave away Easter dinner to every one of our employees,” he says. “We’re here for the community and we’re here for our employees.”
Easter weekend business was also brisk at Joe Leone’s, the popular Italian takeout market in nearby Point Pleasant Beach. Head baker Niki Vitalis started work at 2 am Saturday—two hours earlier than usual—and proceeded to bake some 1,500 loaves (Italian, of course, but also semolina and a variety of rolls). They were all gone by the end of the day. “We were all talking about how it was busier this year than last Easter,” she says.
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Amy Russo, who owns the popular Asbury Park breakfast and lunch spot Toast (it also has locations Montclair and Red Bank), sees the additional off-season traffic as a potential lifeline for some businesses. “To tell people not to come to the Shore—well, that’s why my Asbury Park restaurant location is literally dying,” she says.
As long as people are healthy, and observing social distancing, Russo says it is “pushing the line” to tell people they cannot go to homes that they own.
“We have these restaurants open that are trying to stay afloat,” she says. “You can’t stay afloat unless you start letting people cross county lines.”
Still, not everyone is as accepting of the secondary homeowners. “They’re taking my toilet paper,” exclaimed one full-time Bay Head resident. She came up empty-handed after visiting three different local grocery stores last weekend.