Jersey Shore spending stifled this summer by inflation, gas prices, sweltering heat

On a recent Friday afternoon on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, a warm breeze was blowing, sunlight was bouncing off the ocean, and the smell of fried food wafted through the air, but one thing was noticeably different: the crowds were a bit light.

Beachgoers and visitors had plenty of room to spread out on the boardwalk, lined with arcades, pizzerias and souvenir shops, despite near-perfect conditions.

“When I first started working here, this boardwalk would have already been crowded,” said Gretchen Brown, who has worked at Blue Cup Coffee on the boardwalk for three years. “But now it’s like you can walk, you know?” It’s just a lot slower.

Tourism officials and business owners say business on the coast has been softer this season – and similar to 2019 figures – due to economic factors such as inflation and rising petrol prices , as well as environmental factors, such as recent heat waves.

But they also point out that last summer’s sales were unusually high, seen as pent-up demand from the first year of the pandemic, which contributed to this year’s decline and recalibrated expectations going forward.

Last summer, people “couldn’t wait to come down to shore,” said Evelyn Mars, executive director of the Jersey Shore Chamber of Commerce. “I think we saw a good turnout at that time. But now, since inflation hit, it’s a little less crowded.

Lucky Leo’s game on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, NJ, August 2, 2021Ed Murray | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Michele Rutkowski, the founder of Boardwalk’s Best shops, a group of retail stores in Wildwood, said it was clear last year’s peak would not last.

“I think everyone went into this season knowing that 2021 was just one for the record books,” she said, adding that it was unrealistic to expect the same numbers this year.

“But we were pleasantly surprised and perfectly happy with the business that happened here,” Rutkowski said.

Still, supply chain issues and staff shortages persist, she said, although she believes the former is self-regulating and is optimistic it will normalize by next summer. She declined to give an estimate of how much her business has dropped this season compared to last, but said, “It’s not close.”

The decrease in activity, while not overwhelming, has always been felt along the Jersey Shore, regardless of business type or specific location.

Anthony Catanoso, owner and president of Steel Pier, the 1,000-foot-long amusement park on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, said most of his industry peers viewed strong sales last summer as an “anomaly”.

People had more money and prices were still low, he said. Catanoso’s estimated sales are down about 20% this year, compared to last season.

“So this year, like I said, (is) more normalized in terms of people’s disposable income and then we have, then gas and inflation hit, and people got tighter,” he said. he said, “They’re not as free, I would say, on vacation this year.

In Point Pleasant, Pizza Plus owner Michael Favato could not estimate the drop in business, but said he noticed a drop in foot traffic.

“The heat wave didn’t help,” he added.


People look at the menu at Little Mac’s on the Jenkinson Boardwalk in Point Pleasant on Friday August 12, 2022.Patti Sapon | NJ advance media

Many families and visitors take advantage of free or cheaper activities at the beach, said Diane Wieland, director of the Cape May County Department of Tourism.

The Cape May County Free Park and Zoo had a “record year,” Wieland said. Municipalities and resorts are hosting free beach concerts and outdoor movie screenings, and have also seen large crowds in response.

Families could cook more meals at home in their rentals and choose to go out to eat just once a day, or dine at an upscale restaurant just once during their stay, Wieland said.

“So our visitors are just adjusting their spending, and unfortunately we’re hearing that’s impacting food and beverage, as well as retail,” she added.

This year’s downturn was expected, but many resorts and retailers are optimistic for the coming months when plenty of fall activities and festivals will take place, Wieland said.

beat the heat

Henna on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, NJ on Tuesday, August 2, 2022Ed Murray | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

But not all companies say they have experienced a second crisis.

“I think business has been steady,” said Rebecca Juzwiak, vice president of Johnson’s Popcorn on the Ocean City boardwalk. “It’s been steady and strong this season.”

Daniela Barbacini, one of the owners of the colorful Lucky Leo’s Sweet Shop in Seaside Heights, said some of the retailers near her store have seen declines. But her candy store saw sales equal to last year’s figures.

“We’re lucky, aren’t we?” she says.

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Brianna Kudisch can be contacted at [email protected].