TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey may be “Stronger than the Storm,” as the state’s promotional jingle goes, but towns up and down the stretch of shore that took the biggest whack from Superstorm Sandy nine months ago are seeing declines in beach revenue despite racing to rebuild, the best they could, in time for tourist season.
The drop in the number of beachgoers is being blamed on a number of Sandy-related factors — early decision-making by some regulars to book trips elsewhere during this season of rebuilding, fewer available rental units, delayed beach openings and changes in the school calendar to make up for storm days.
But some resort towns say it was an old boogeyman that did them in: rain.
All eight shore towns responding to a survey by The Associated Press reported a drop in beach attendance and beach revenues as of the third weekend in July, and most said that even if blessed with great weather through the remainder of the season, they doubt they’ll be able to make up for the early drop-off in attendance.
Manasquan is one town whose revenue decline can be attributed to just about every problem experienced along the shore. Beach revenue, including from parking, was down $290,000 through July 21.
Part of the loss is due to a two-week delay in opening the beach during the week because students who staff lifeguard jobs were making up school days lost after Sandy, resulting in 5,000 fewer beach badges being sold, or $40,000, said beach department manager Wally Wall.
Seasonal beach badge purchases were also down, in part because about 100 rental units were destroyed or uninhabitable, Wall said.
Then there was the weather. Manasquan had some days when no beach badges were sold at all, including the wet, cold Saturday during Memorial Day weekend.
“We had our beaches open and ready to go,” Wall said. “Unfortunately, everyone cooperated except the weatherman.”
In Avon, total beach attendance and revenue was down more than $213,000 — with consequences for the courts.
While parking in town is free, when beachgoers pack the area, people tend park in handicap or yellow zones, according to administrator Timothy Gallagher. With ample parking because of low attendance, money generated from those tickets is lost, Gallagher said.
Gallagher said the town expects to make up the lost revenue next year when more concession stands will be up and running.
“I don’t see us coming out even (this year),” Gallagher said. “You’re not going to catch up to $213,000.”
Rental income and associated business is down not just because of damaged or destroyed homes.
Many people start looking at summer rentals in November — which last year was right after Sandy hit, heavily damaging more than 50,000 homes and rental units, tearing up beaches and roads, and causing an estimated $37 million in losses.
With things looking grim, many of those early vacation planners decided to bail on New Jersey for 2013.
“People who normally have rented here in the past didn’t know what to expect,” Bob McDevitt of Avon Realty said.
To no one’s surprise, Ortley Beach is nowhere close to matching last year’s revenues. It was one of the most devastated spots along the shore, with home demolitions and road repairs along the coastline not expected to be completed until September.
With just a third of its beach open — and that took some doing — the town is counting on $123,500 in beach revenue this year, of which they had collected $70,000 with a week and a half left in July. Last year, the town took in $700,000, administrator Paul Shives said.
Long Branch is still hoping to make up a $158,000 drop-off in revenues if the weather cooperates. Administrator Howard Woolley said when the weekends have been sunny, attendance has been even better than in previous years, even though the boardwalk is not expected to be completed until next year.
In Sea Girt, attendance is down overall despite a great Fourth of July weekend. But the decline has been partly offset by a small hike in daily beach fees from $9 to $10, said administrator Al Bunting.
Spring Lake said its revenue was down more than $59,000, which it blamed on the wetter-than-usual start to the season. Bradley Beach also reported a small dip in revenue because of fewer sales of beach badges but said it still expects to match last year’s numbers.
Problems in Point Pleasant include a decline in rentals and mistaken assumptions about the status of the shore.
A decline in daily beach attendance is blamed largely on the extended school year in June.
But Toby Wolf, a spokeswoman for Jenkinson’s, which owns most of the beach, also said they have had to fight perceptions of the shore post-Sandy.
“People have this notion in their heads that there’s nothing to do at the Jersey Shore so (they’re) not going to go,” she said.
The rainy weather only made matters worse.
“It’s was just like another blow,” Wolf said.
One shore town, Seaside Park, said it would not divulge where its revenues stood without a request filed through the state’s open-records law.
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