How Shore Businesses Are Adapting to Pandemic Restrictions

Coastal entrepreneurs revamp their business models and hope for the best.

jersey shore businesses
At the Sawmill Restaurant on the boardwalk in Seaside Park, general manager Ron Rinaldi is counting on outdoor seating as the driver for summer business. Photo by James J. Connolly

Ron Rinaldi considers himself one of the lucky ones. As general manager of the Sawmill Restaurant, a longtime fixture on the Seaside Park boardwalk, he runs a business that can thrive with outdoor seating. That’s good news this summer, as the coronavirus threat continues to limit indoor activity at restaurants and other businesses.

In May, Governor Phil Murphy gave the go-ahead for New Jersey beaches to reopen in time for the Memorial Day weekend, but it remains unclear what the coming months hold for Shore businesses. Memorial Day weekend, despite below-average temperatures and overcast skies, offered some hope.

Rinaldi was pleased to see plenty of people on the boardwalk over the holiday weekend. “We were satisfied,” says Rinaldi. “It has been getting better each week. People can buy food and take it outside, but can’t eat at the tables. If we are allowed to have outdoor seating and the outdoor beach bar this summer, that will be a win for us.” The Sawmill, owned and operated by the D’Onofrio family, has plenty of open-air space for social distancing.

Rinaldi has some concerns about staffing, thanks to the combined $1,000 a week in unemployment and stimulus checks some servers have been receiving. That could make it hard to bring some back. Still, he’s confident that the core members of his team, many of whom have been with the Sawmill for 10 or more years, will be there to answer the call.

[RELATED: Jersey Shore Restaurants Offering Takeout and Delivery This Summer]

Lavallette Personal Fitness is another business hoping to ride out the summer while maintaining social distancing. Like all gyms in the state, Lavallette Personal Fitness remained closed as of late June. Owner/operator Gabriela DeMaria plans to offer personal-training sessions outside on a one-on-one basis this summer. Unfortunately, seasonal memberships will likely not be allowed.

“It is so hard to tell members that want to work out that they can’t come to the gym,” says DeMaria.

As for her one-on-one personal-training sessions, DeMaria assures clients they will be outside, 10 feet apart, wearing masks and using personal dumbbells. DeMaria has also been providing virtual training via Zoom. 

Meanwhile in Ortley Beach, Barnacle Bill’s miniature-golf course is now open, and the restaurant is providing takeout food and ice cream, but the arcade remains closed. Owners Bill and Jo Ann Petruzel are cautiously optimistic about the summer outlook. “Younger children will experience an old-fashioned summer,” says Bill. “The amount of bicycling is phenomenal, and other things, like getting a box of chalk and decorating a driveway or making a game amongst kids, will be the new norm.” 

Jo Ann adds that Barnacle Bill’s will continue to be vigilant and follow state guidelines. “The whole thing is about being responsible,” she says.

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