As summer season ends, Shore hears good news

Cole Caba (left) and sister Morgan with their family at Mike's Dock Seafood Restaurant in Sea Isle City. They stopped for one last crab lunch before heading home to Phoenixville, as summer season at the Shore comes to an end on Labor Day.
Cole Caba (left) and sister Morgan with their family at Mike's Dock Seafood Restaurant in Sea Isle City. They stopped for one last crab lunch before heading home to Phoenixville, as summer season at the Shore comes to an end on Labor Day. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 06, 2011

SEA ISLE CITY, N.J. - Mike Monichetti's family has been selling fresh seafood along a fabled stretch of bayfront here known as Fish Alley for precisely 100 years.

Now, that's a lot of clams.

So when Monichetti, 52, the third generation running Mike's Dock Seafood - a dockside establishment whose customers routinely line up around the block and wait hours for a table - decides if it has been a good summer at the Jersey Shore, he does so with a discerning eye.

All along the state's 127-mile coastline, businesses and officials have begun to measure the summer of 2011. Preliminary numbers show that even with a down economy and a hurricane on Aug. 28 that sparked mass evacuations, summer business may have increased by as much as 7.8 percent this year, county and state officials said.

Tourism - New Jersey's second-largest industry and provider of a half-million jobs - is a $38.8 billion industry, according to the state Department of Tourism. It rates second only to pharmaceuticals, and generates $7.7 billion in federal, state, and local government taxes - most of it coming at the Shore.

"It was the busiest I've ever seen it this summer," said Monichetti, who made it his goal to sell 100,000 clams - raw, steamed and baked - on the Fourth of July weekend, in celebration of his Cape May County business' centennial season. By July 5, he had more than met his goal.

"We sold 106,000 clams. The most we had ever sold before was 68,000," Monichetti said Monday.

Labor Day weekend was different, Monichetti said, because of a moratorium on harvesting this brand of shellfish off the coast of New Jersey. Because of elevated bacteria levels caused by Hurricane Irene, any clams currently being sold in New Jersey are likely to have come from Virginia, until the moratorium is lifted by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The Cape May County Department of Tourism sends out an annual survey to about 600 restaurants, hotels, motels, real estate agencies, souvenir sellers, and other businesses and asks how them to rate the summer. While the questionnaires are usually returned to her office by Labor Day, the recent hurricane delayed completion of the findings by a couple of weeks this year, said Diane F. Weiland, the department's director.

But preliminary indications are that business in Cape May County was up at the Shore by nearly 8 percent this summer over last year, when a 5.4 percent year-over-year increase was enjoyed. The economic performance was flat for several years prior to 2010, Weiland said.

No preliminary figures were available yet for the other Shore counties of Atlantic, Monmouth and Ocean.

Weather is a key factor in determining if a particular business does well, said Wes Kazmarck, owner of the Surf Mall in Ocean City and president of the Ocean City Boardwalk Merchants Association.

Kazmarck said businesses along the Ocean City Boardwalk fared well in June and July, but when the sky turned particularly rainy in August, it sent profits for some down by as much as 15 to 20 percent from the same period last summer.

"It seemed like the rains in August came in late afternoon or evening, which is prime time for most boardwalk businesses like amusements or restaurants," Kazmarck said.

Monichetti contends it was an unsteady overall economy that shaped the season for him. So he got creative, running specials like two-for-one nights, free mussel Mondays, and $15.95 lobster dinners.

"People out there are really hurting, really having a hard time with this economy. But they still keep coming to the Shore and holding on to those traditions with their families," said Monichetti, staring at a flourishing three-story-tall fig tree planted 100 years ago. It was from a cutting his grandfather, Lodovico Monichetti, carried with him when he and his wife, Rosina, emigrated from Ischia, off the coast of Naples, in 1911.

"People still want their kids to experience the kind of joy they have experienced at the Shore," Monichetti said.


Contact staff writer Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-652-8382 or jurgo@phillynews.com.

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