Dotty Webb is hoping the long Independence Day weekend will turn around a season that has been rainy and slow at her Gardner's Basin beach shop in Atlantic City.

Web Feet Beach Boutique was closed for months after Hurricane Sandy arrived late last year. The spring proved to be one of New Jersey's wettest, with the most rain ever recorded in June - not ideal conditions for a business that sells designer sunglasses and sandals and rents kayaks and surfboards.

"We have a lot to make up for," she said. "We are ready for the summer."

Webb, of Linwood, expects all five of her employees to be on hand this weekend to wait on customers expected for the long holiday.

With the Fourth of July falling on a Thursday this year, businesses are hoping to squeeze four good days out of the holiday - boosting what is traditionally a summer high-water mark.

But just what kind of boost the extra day provides is hard to say. Shops reeling from a damp spring are happy to post longer hours to feed and clothe the summer vacation masses.

"A lot of people have barbecues and go to fireworks, so the actual Fourth of July day is not always that busy, but having it on a four-day weekend really helps because you can only be in the sun so long before you want to do some shopping," said Hilary Pritchard, the owner of Whale's Tale and Splash stores in Cape May.

Atlantic City is gearing up for an especially busy holiday weekend, said Joseph D. Kelly, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber.

"I think the calendar favors us. Any time we can drive midweek business, it's good," he said. "When folks get a chance to extend their weekends for a holiday, there's a good chance you'll see room bookings go up."

An influx of tourists and summer visitors has a ripple effect across the local economy, he said.

"All the vendors to the hotels will benefit - and restaurants and retail. I think all of these segments are going to be stronger," he said.

Capitalizing on crowds is a critical part of many shore shops' livelihoods.

Cape May County can see 800,000 visitors on a big summer holiday weekend, county Tourism Director Diane Wieland said. The county had 12.4 million visitors last year, she said.

The weather - as well as meteorological reports from Philadelphia-area television stations - can also make or break a holiday weekend.

"That's been our guiding force always; if the weather is cooperative people will come down," Pritchard said. "If the forecast looks gloomy, they might not come."

This weekend, AAA projected nearly 41 million Americans to travel at least 50 miles, a 1 percent decline from last year.

AAA expects a drop because the 2012 holiday fell on a Wednesday.

But Wieland said a mid-week Independence Day is not ideal - visitors tend to split their vacations to the weekend before or after the holiday, she said.

On the Fourth last year, 61,143 vehicles passed - east and west - through the Egg Harbor Toll Plaza on the Atlantic City Expressway, one gauge of South Jersey vacation traffic. That figure was lower than the daily July average of 65,447 last year.

But traffic each day on the following Friday, Saturday and Sunday were significantly higher, reaching a combined 242,294 vehicles during those three days, said Kevin Rehmann, spokesman for the South Jersey Transportation Authority, which oversees the expressway.

That weekend traffic was more than 23 percent higher than the July 2012 average, according to SJTA data.

Whichever way visitors come, businesses are prepared for the crowds.

At the Hobby Horse Ice Cream Parlor in Ocean City, owner Marc Dukeman will have eight people scooping ice cream nonstop on the Fourth of July, the busiest day of the year for walk-up customers, he said.

"After the fireworks let out, everybody just walks here, and the line's out the door," Dukeman said.

Contact Brian Ianieri:

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Contact Michael Miller:

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