Summer businesses feel loss after Irene forces closures
Summer businesses are already operating on a short time frame to make their money for the year and Hurricane Irene has made their season even shorter.
"A lot of Boardwalk businesses pay off their rent and merchandise by mid-August and after that they make their profit," Wildwoods Boardwalk Special Improvement District executive director Patrick Rosenello said. "A lot of guys depend on the last two weeks in August, so the loss of a weekend in August is very, very painful."
The improvement district, for instance, operates the Wildwoods iconic Boardwalk tramcars and as Irene moved closer to the shore the trams were garaged to ride out the storm.
On the same end of August weekend in 2010, the trams brought in $22,500 in gross revenue, what Rosenello estimated accounts for 3 to 5 percent of the tramcar's annual revenue. That's $22,500 the trams didn't earn this past weekend.
On Monday, the sun was shining and the yellow and blue trams were once again rolling up and down the boards, occasionally warning passersby to "Watch the tramcar, please," but the number of passersby was a fraction of the estimated 150,000 people that normally make their way along the Wildwoods Boardwalk any August weekend.
Rosenello and business partner E.J. Dougherty stood outside Captain Jack's, the restaurant they operate on the front of the former Hunt's Pier. Inside, a lone couple was enjoying lunch.
Rosenello said the restaurant is open weekends in May and September, but it is the months of June, July and August that account for at least 75 percent of the businesses revenues.
"We're talking tens of thousands of dollars we've lost and we're a small to medium size business," Rosenello said of the 125-seat restaurant, which also had to throw away hundreds of pounds of food after outages left parts of the island without power for hours during the storm.
Morey's Piers, meanwhile, reopened partially Monday with the amusement park operator expecting to be fully up and running again today.
Jack Morey, vice president of Morey's Piers, said the piers have had to close for other weather events such as thunderstorms simply because of the nature of the business.
"We are all in a weather-sensitive business," Morey said, adding defining the exact amount of business lost would be difficult to do.
"I don't believe it's fair to benchmark it because that assumes that there is such as thing as a perfect season," Morey said.
Morey also noted that the three-day loss was minor in comparison to the lives lost due to the storm in other parts of the state and Mid-Atlantic region.
Charlie Caucci, owner of Mia's Christmas Gallery at 11th Street and the Boardwalk, said his shop is open all year, but August is his number one gross sales month followed closely by July.
"The economic impact is tremendous," Caucci said, adding that Irene's impact will go beyond the Friday, Saturday and Sunday his shop was closed.
"Nobody is going to get back to normal. The people in Philadelphia, Camden County, Cherry Hill are dealing with flooding and cleanups. They are our customers."
On Monday, the shop, which had been boarded up and lined with sandbags, reopened at 9:30 a.m. and by 10:30 a.m. just one customer had been in, normally that number would be between 75 and 100 customers, he said.
In Atlantic County, tourism-dependent businesses like Margate's Lucy the Elephant had also re-opened after being shuttered for three days.
Richard Helfant, executive director and CEO, was trying to get the attraction back to normal though he explained normal is a relative term.
"Well, I run an elephant. Nothing is normal," he said.
Helfant said Lucy, which sees the bulk of her business from mid-June to Labor Day, lost an estimated $3,500 per day in revenues while the attraction's outdoor grill lost another $2,000 per day.
"That's three days out of a 90-day summer," Helfant said.
He added that Lucy was not damaged.
"She wasn't hurt. No people were hurt. And, in the bigger picture, Atlantic City wasn't hurt and we're a product of Atlantic City," he said of the resorts impact on its neighbors.
Jeff Vasser, president of the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority, spent the storm inside the convention center hoping for the best.
"It's hard to recover from something like this. Hotel rooms and restaurant visits are perishable. You have a finite number of summer weekends to make your business," Vasser said.
Vasser said the authority was making use of Facebook and Twitter to quickly spread the word that Atlantic City was open for business, particularly as Labor Day weekend nears.
"Hopefully, we'll have stronger weekends going into the fall," Vasser said of the town's upcoming events that range from a comedy festival and boxing matches to concerts by Jay-Z and Kanye West.
Back in Wildwood, John Lynch, director of sales for the Wildwoods Convention Center, was roaming the Boardwalk Monday afternoon filming short video clips to be placed on Facebook also letting potential visitors know the island was ready for their arrival.
"People are looking for answers," Lynch said.