Short Season

Deanna Wilson, the owner of the Stone Harbor Book Store, says typical spring worries about rain have turned to fear of more snow this cold year. School snow days may lengthen school years, delaying the start of family vacations and the prime summer shore season.

Dale Gerhard

Some businesses are predicting a shorter summer tourism season because of an early Labor Day this year and the chance that many schools will have to make up snow days in June.

South Jersey businesses always face a narrow summer window in which to make the bulk of their annual income, but this year could squeeze it even smaller.

An exceptionally snowy winter could push the school calendar further into June for some districts across the Midwest and East Coast. Meanwhile, the traditional end of summer — Labor Day — falls on Sept. 1, the earliest it ever falls on the calendar.

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Pre-season jitters are common for most tourism businesses. But it was easier to fret about the possibility of a short summer on a day when shoppers on 96th Street in Stone Harbor were slogging through 6 inches of spring snow.

“Usually we’re afraid of spring rain. This year, it’s spring snow,” said Deanna Wilson, of Middle Township, owner of Stone Harbor Book Shop on 96th Street.

Her bookstore depends on tourists for about 85 percent of its revenue, she estimated.

“It’s the nature of the beast. We only have a nine-week season. You have to work hard to extend the season,” she said.

Wilson said a bigger summer problem could be if more college students return to school earlier in the year because of the early Labor Day. That could strand her without late-summer help.

“With all the snow days, who knows how many weeks we’ll have?” said Jacquie Ewing, owner of the gift and decor shop Armadillo Ltd. in Avalon. “With sports teams going back sooner in August and Labor Day falling on the first of September, it could be a short season.”

The Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce has mulled the possibility of an abbreviated tourism season over the winter, Director Michele Gillian said.

“We realize schools are probably letting out later,” she said.

Ocean City’s chamber plans to emphasize some of its early-season events to capture the interest of visitors. Memorial Day will feature a charitable event, Stand up 4 SEALs, to benefit the families of soldiers killed in action. The city will play host to a car show called Jeep Invasion scheduled for Father’s Day weekend on June 13, complete with a fireworks display.

“Certainly, some special events will help get people to commit and get people to vacation here in June,” she said. “The fireworks at night are a nice addition.”

But the fall calendar is not doing the resort any favors, she said.

“Sometimes we have an extra week. Sometimes we don’t,” she said. “But last fall’s good weather really helped make a difference on a lot of bottom lines for small businesses. We had a good August and a good September.”

Special events make a huge difference for small businesses that rely on tourism, said Clinton Bunting, of Dewey Beach, Del. He owns a shopping mall in Rehoboth Beach, Del. And last year he bought the mall on 96th Street in Stone Harbor, now called the Walk at Harbor Square.

“We have sidewalk sales in the spring and fall, a chocolate festival, restaurant week and wine and beer tastings,” he said. “They pull people in past the season.”

This year could mark a return to normalcy for many businesses two years after Hurricane Sandy, said Lori Pepenella, spokeswoman for the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce.

Despite a statewide tourism campaign titled “Stronger than the Storm,” Pepenella said it is likely that New Jersey lost some vacationers to other states in 2013. She is expecting many of these visitors to come storming back this summer.

“It was a recovery season for us last year. But all the businesses were open. We introduced ourselves to a lot of new people,” she said. “People like coming to a place that feels like home. That’s where we can bring people back. If they’ve spent generations here, they know to look forward to things that only our shore has.”

Her chamber is hosting several shoulder-season events, including its biggest — the annual Chowderfest in Beach Haven on Oct. 4.

“Our major event of the year is in October. It was started 26 years ago by local business owners to extend the season past Labor Day,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Legislature is considering a bill giving school districts more flexibility to expand the school day or even hold Saturday classes so they can finish the year on time.

“A lot of Pennsylvania schools are making the time up now. There is hope for us,” Gillian said.

Contact Michael Miller:


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More than 30 years’ experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines in Illinois, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey and 1985 winner of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association’s John Murphy Award for copy editing.

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