LBI b&b looks to shoulder season to make up for summer-season losses

The Gables, a Beach Haven B&B, was heavily damaged by fire at Easter. Repairs took longer than anticipated, so a good "shoulder season" is important.
The Gables, a Beach Haven B&B, was heavily damaged by fire at Easter. Repairs took longer than anticipated, so a good "shoulder season" is important. (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 28, 2012

BEACH HAVEN, N.J. - Sondra Beninati had hoped to have her fire-devastated Long Beach Island restaurant and bed-and-breakfast, the Gables, renovated and filled with guests by Memorial Day.

But major reconstruction of a 19th-century landmark, especially under the direction of someone with Beninati's eye for detail, can take longer than planned.

With Labor Day looming, Beninati and her husband, Steve, finally flung open the ornate front door of the bright yellow-and-pink place last week, and have pinned their hopes on the Jersey Shore's "shoulder season."

"I guess that's why, when we first renovated the place seven years ago, we installed so many fireplaces . . . for that postseason ambience," quipped Beninati as she attended to an onslaught of questions and requests for decisions in advance of the Gables' soft reopening Thursday.

The April 8 blaze - caused by the flick of a cigarette in an exterior trash can - started just after about 60 Easter dinners had been served. Since then, Beninati has overseen the refurbishment of the critically praised establishment's antiques and art, and installation of wallpaper, tables, linens, and other accoutrements.

She has until the end of the year, when the Gables closes for about two months, to make up some of the revenue lost by its being out of commission during the heart of the summer vacation season.

What may help is the ever-expanding push by Shore towns to bolster their calendars of events in the fall and spring.

"Right around the corner from the Gables will be our 24th annual Chowderfest, which is one of the biggest shoulder-season events in the region," said Jeanne DiPaola, director of public affairs and tourism for Ocean County. "That's just one of the events that will bring people back to the Shore again and again, even after the traditional tourism season is over."

Besides Chowderfest in Beach Haven, on Sept. 29 and 30, DiPaola can rattle off a litany of Ocean County events, including Clownfest from Sept. 12 to 16 and the new Navy Seal Challenge on Sept. 29, both in Seaside Heights, and Tuckerton Seaport's 10th annual Christkindlmarkt on Dec. 8 and 9.

"It's a time of the year that businesses have really come to depend on," she said.

It's not known what portion of Ocean County's $3 billion in annual tourism revenue is generated before Memorial Day and after Labor Day, but DiPaola said it was "significant."

In Cape May County, as much as 15 percent of the annual $5.1 billion brought in by tourism comes in the shoulder season, said Diane F. Wieland, director of the county tourism department.

The use of "shoulder season" was first embraced in the county about 20 years ago, Wieland said, when local bed-and-breakfasts decided that "offseason" sounded too defeatist. Since then, myriad activities and events have been created to lure visitors after it's too cool to swim.

Heavily influencing the importance of the season, she says, is that many in the region who get an early start to their tans and linger after Labor Day are second-home owners.

An estimated 47 percent of the dwellings in Cape May County Shore towns are vacation homes, and just over half are used exclusively by their owners. Nearly 60 percent of the area's second homes are owned by Pennsylvanians, according to Wieland, whose office conducts annual visitor surveys.

The vacation homeowners make about 10 trips a year to their properties, she said.

Events such as the New Jersey Firefighters' Convention in Wildwood, to begin Sept. 13; Ocean City's Fall Block Party on Oct. 6; and West Cape May's Lima Bean Festival on Oct. 6 keep them and day-trippers coming back.

"Businesses can't make it in just the summer anymore," Wieland said. "The information we obtain in surveys and other means helps us gear our marketing and advertising to that shoulder-season group. We begin that marketing Aug. 1, while [visitors] are still here for the summer."

Fall is usually busier than spring, Wieland said, because the weather is more stable. The well-oiled tourism machine - restaurants, hotels, stores - "keeps right on going."

Shore revenue in Atlantic County - where the focus is on Atlantic City, whose enticements are mostly indoors - are not as defined by the calendar, officials there said.

"We've always considered the shoulder seasons important to our business," said the Gables' Beninati. "That will be the case this year more than ever."


Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-652-8382 or jurgo@phillynews.com. Read the Jersey Shore blog, "Downashore," at www.philly.com/downashore.

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