Some shore businesses rallied to a strong showing during Memorial Day weekend, despite rain and cold Friday that made for smaller crowds at boardwalks and amusement piers.
Boardwalk shops said sunny skies Saturday through Monday were a blessing for business as visitors flocked to attractions for the first holiday weekend of the season.
“We had a wonderfully busy weekend,” said Holly Kisby, of Ocean City, general manager of Shriver’s Saltwater Taffy on the Ocean City Boardwalk. “We couldn’t have asked for a better kickoff to the summer.”
Shriver’s added several new taffy flavors this year, including birch beer, peach and cream, and espresso. Kisby said the Boardwalk was packed with people all weekend.
The spring has been a season of nervous anticipation for New Jersey’s shore businesses. Some expressed concern about losing visitors to out-of-state destinations after Hurricane Sandy, despite reassurances and a $25 million Stronger than the Storm state ad campaign to show that New Jersey’s shore towns are ready for business.
“With the sun shining, it got people down here,” Kisby said. “It renewed everyone’s view of Ocean City post-Sandy. Everyone sees how we are ready. That means people will come back.”
Memorial Day typically is a good barometer for the summer, said Michelle Gillian, director of the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Ocean City saw early crowds build last week, she said.
“We had 10 ribbon-cuttings for new businesses today in Ocean City,” she said Friday.
Gillian said cool, clear weather like New Jersey saw this weekend doesn’t seem to bother visitors.
“I grew up at the shore. I remember a lot of Memorial Days in sweatshirts and jeans,” she said.
Business was steady at Sea Isle Bait & Tackle, which will celebrate its third summer under owner Becky Cunningham, of Woodbine.
“We were a little surprised,” Cunningham said. “You never know with the weather, but people really came down. A lot of guys had the itch and wanted to go out fishing in the surf.”
Some Atlantic City merchants reported thinner crowds than in past years.
Mike DeLuca, of Somers Point, manager of Lo Presti Pizza on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, said the holiday got off to a slow start.
“Business was off from last year. People came down a little later in the weekend. The second part of the weekend was better,” he said. “People don’t eat as much when it’s cold.”
DeLuca said only the weather forecast will tell whether this summer will be a good one for his Boardwalk business.
“Judging from Memorial Day, it’s going to be decent. I think it’s going to be pretty good,” he said. “It just depends on the rain. That determines the crowd we get.”
At Boardwalk Sportswear, receipts were disappointing, said owner Mohammed Abbas, of Atlantic City.
“If the casino market is down, then everything is down here,” he said. “Our sales were down 50 percent. I think it’s very tough now.”
Farther north, at La Spiaggia in Ship Bottom, business was off slightly from last year. Owner Mark Stragapede, of Toms River, said in many ways it was still cause for celebration.
“Overall business was down compared to previous years. But customers were happy to be back and to see us back. We were totally devastated,” he said.
The restaurant’s kitchen and dining room underwent extensive renovations after the storm. But the restaurant reopened for its 19th year, offering wild mushroom bisque and veal chops.
Stragapede said a combination of lingering effects from the recession and inclement weather might have kept some people home this weekend.
“I think it will be a good season. But I’m an optimist at heart,” he said.
In Beach Haven, Buckalew’s Restaurant & Tavern celebrated a strong weekend.
“We were very busy all weekend. I think it will be a very good summer for us,” Office Manager Judy Millar, of Little Egg Harbor Township, said.
Like most businesses on Long Beach Island, Buckalew’s was inundated with 2 feet of water from the Oct. 29 storm and required extensive renovations. But the tavern reopened just six weeks later.
“We were very fortunate. Our whole crew worked very hard,” she said. “We’ve been busy all winter long, so we’ve been blessed.”
The tavern reopened its sushi bar for the season over Memorial Day weekend. It’s a popular feature in the summer, she said. Judging by the crowds, Millar said, she is optimistic the state’s tourism campaign is working.
“There were a lot of people in Beach Haven this weekend. It was a great opening for the summer,” she said.
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