Don’t throw away your beach badge just yet. As Covid-19 continues to affect the season down the Shore, many towns have decided to extend the 2020 season through this month, in a move that for some has never been done before.
“This is the first I’ve heard of the badges being good for this extended period of time,” says Sylvia Sylvia-Cioffi, executive director of the Asbury Park Chamber of Commerce.
In Asbury Park, the beaches will be staffed daily through this month; badges will be required. Other beaches on a growing list of those extending their season include Long Branch, Sea Bright and Sea Girt, with daily staffing through September; and Ocean Grove, Ortley Beach, Bradley Beach and Seaside Park for weekends only.
With beaches open, Shore towns aim to keep tourists coming to patronize their restaurants, hotels and other businesses later into the year. It’s an effort to make up for revenue lost to the limitations of this unprecedented season.
“The concern for recovery among our merchants is so great that anything we can think of in the effort to stabilize the local economy is a welcome idea,” says Sylvia-Cioffi. The Reopen Asbury initiative, which turns downtown Asbury Park streets into pedestrian malls, is also being extended.
“Initially, it was only going through the end of Labor Day weekend. Now, it’s going to be in place on Thursdays through Sundays until October,” Sylvia-Cioffi says.
Shore rentals, which got off to a rocky start this year, are now noticing a busier-than-usual shoulder season. “We’re up 500 percent for our September rentals this year,” says Eric Birchler of Birchler Realtors. Birchler’s agency oversees 400 Shore properties, mainly in Lavallette, Ortley Beach and Seaside Park. He points out that the September increases need to be taken in context: “We are not booked up for the month by any stretch of the imagination, so it’s not like summer numbers. But it’s definitely different than past years.”
Instead of the “doomsday scenario” rental season Birchler feared in late spring, he says the summer turned out to be great for brokers, owners and tenants. The extra business through September is “a nice little cherry on top.”
Hotels also are hopeful the coming “shoulder season” will be busier than usual. At The Asbury hotel, “September and October continue to look very promising,” says David Bowd, chief executive officer of Salt Hotels and owner in and operator of The Asbury. “And this is even after a significant reduction in the number of weddings at the hotel that had to be postponed due to state guidelines.”
September–October reservations at La Mer Beach Front Resort in Cape May are also up. The hotel is pleased with the response to its extended-stay promotion packages, which include office and classroom space for working or learning virtually. “People have realized that they can work remotely just as successfully as being in the office, so why not do it from the beach?” says general manager Francesca Santoro.
In spite of the hotel’s uptick in fall reservations, Santoro says Covid-19 is still affecting tourism. “This year may not have the draw compared to previous years because many of the events that drove the shoulder seasons have been cancelled already.”
Similarly, at the North End American Grill in Wildwood, owner Jim Barnabei says canceled events will detract from business. “September is [typically] a good month for us with weekend festivals. This year, all events are canceled, so it’s sort of up in the air.” Nevertheless, he is optimistic that nice September weather, extension of the Wildwood beach season and a virtual start to school this year will help offset the loss of festival-driven tourists.
Pat Fasano, developer and owner of Bourre restaurant in Atlantic City, credits school-opening delays and beautiful weather for an increase in late-August, early-September business. “People are not anxious to go back to the city environment,” says Fasano. “I think September is going to be a great month.”
Fasano hopes the season’s extension paves the way for years to come. In fact, the new development of Bourre’s outdoor space is designed to keep outdoor entertainment alive into the fall and even early winter season. “What we’re doing on New York Avenue is building outdoor entertainment centers that we anticipate running late, through Christmas,” he says.
Gino Iovino, owner of Girasole Ristorante in Atlantic City, also believes this extended season could lead to busier shoulder seasons in the future—if the weather cooperates. “It has always been in my mind that September and October are the most beautiful months for outdoor dining at the Jersey Shore,” says Iovino.
Girasole’s team is using this year to test new ideas for promoting September and October business. “We want people to fall in love with fall at the Shore.”