Blue Skies Bring Booming Business To The Shore

Posted: August 09, 1999

How has your summer been?

At the Jersey Shore, that question is answered in numbers. And this year, the numbers are up. And sometimes down.

From Sea Bright to Cape May, those who count things such as the number of beach badges bought, sodas sipped, ice creams dipped, souvenirs sold, and dollars raked in at the casinos say that, in most cases, business is booming.

And that boom is being driven by the seemingly infinite number of days when blue skies and sunshine baked beaches this summer.

Others say the rainless weather has sometimes made it too hot to even go to the beach. But that has helped casinos - where the air-conditioned comfort has provided a cool alternative, making July that industry's best month ever, state officials said.

``People still perceive that it's cooler at the Shore,'' said Donna Bakelaar, acting executive director of the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism. ``While the farmers of the state are having real problems because of all this sunshine and no rain, at the Shore businesses are thrilled. What a day for the beach this whole season has been.''

Tourism in New Jersey was a $26.1 billion industry in 1998. That was roughly 4 percent more than the year before, when more than half of the $25 billion tourist dollars in the state came from the Shore, state officials said.

In Atlantic City last month, the casino industry reported its biggest profit ever, taking in $418.8 million from gambling. That was an 8.7 percent increase from the previous July, according to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.

And in ``America's Greatest Family Resort,'' Ocean City, officials said the numbers were up as well.

``The weather forecast has been pristine this year,'' said John Hansen, the city's finance director. ``And when the weather is good, then everything else follows in terms of how the season may be treating businesses.''

Hansen said the sale of daily, weekly and seasonal beach badges was up at least 3 percent - an early indicator that overall business is as well.

Hank Glaser, owner of Shriver's Salt Water Taffy & Fudge and president of the boardwalk merchants division of the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, was also upbeat.

``The tourists may just be walking a little slower on those really hot days. Maybe they're a little less enthusiastic. But I think it's been a mostly good summer, a very good summer,'' Glaser said. ``I can't say I've noticed a decline in the crowds. They just keep coming, even on the hottest days.''

Those hot days have affected the sale of daily beach badges. Some day-trippers have opted to forgo the hot sand and the greenhead flies that the blazing land breezes have brought to the Shore and found other activities.

Tina Berman, who owns the Mod Hatter shop in Beach Haven, said sales had been up this year for all types of head wear - especially sun hats.

``I guess the weather has actually helped us because a lot of people who normally would never think of wearing a hat have been coming in to buy them for the beach because it's been so sunny,'' Berman said.

In Belmar, a massive sand-replenishment project has been completed and beach-badge sales are up roughly 13 percent from last year. Officials there said the 90-plus-degree temperatures through much of July helped boost sales.

Last year, through the first week in August, the tiny Monmouth County borough had sold 387,760 beach tags. This year, 438,160 badges were sold in the same period, officials said.

And in neighboring Spring Lake, sales of beach badges and just about everything else - including gross receipts at restaurants, hotels and shops - were up more than 10 percent from last season, said the state's Bakelaar, who informally polled businesses there.

Although the state will not have hard figures until spring about exactly how well businesses fared, Bakelaar said she thought the summer of 1999 would turn out to be a banner one.

``Besides the good weather, we have clean beaches and a strong economy,'' she said. ``All the factors are in place for a great season.''

But Elisa Gould, 19, who has been selling ice-cream cones from a stand in Cape May for three summers, said she measures prosperity with a different yardstick: how splattered with ice cream her white T-shirt is at the end of a day.

``This summer, my mom's had a real hard time getting all the stains out of my shirts,'' Gould said. ``I've already had to throw out two or three because they were just too stained with ice cream, so I guess it's been a good year. Last year, I only threw out one.''

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