Aneeb Rahman, 31 manager of Royal Rolling Chairs in Atlantic City talks about summer time workers.

Shore business owners used to a traditional mid-August decrease in their seasonal work force are dealing with the problem differently in a struggling economy.

Some are making do with fewer employees in the first place.

Simran Wadhwani, of Beach Palace in Wildwood Crest, said the summers have not been busy recently, and she has reduced the hours for seasonal hires as well as how many people she employs. In previous summers, she hired local teens for the season who would leave before the summer ended. This summer, she is working through the business day herself.

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"It matches the customer flow," she said, pointing out of her Boardwalk shop. "Look at how few people are there."

The lingering effects of a recession and ongoing misperceptions of the extent of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy have meant less business for many shore merchants, and that's meant fewer oppurtunities for seasonal workers, many of them teenagers or guest workers on visas.

Mahmood Ansari, of Atlantic City, manager of City of Souvenirs on the Boardwalk, said that since 2005, he has seen a steady decline in business.

This summer has been the slowest. He estimates a drop in business of about 25 percent compared to last year.

Mike DeLuca, of Somers Point, the manager at Lo Presti's Pizza and Grill in Atlantic City, said some visitors tell him they are amazed at how quickly the Boardwalk has been rebuilt since the hurricane.

DeLuca is quick to explain that the city's oceanfront Boardwalk was never really damaged, but he believes that misperception, despite massive marketing efforts, has kept some away from the shore.

Typically, the shore towns in southern New Jersey would rely on foreign students to fulfill the demands of a busy summer, especially toward the end of the season, when American students prepare to return to school.

Finding enough workers to finish the summer has always been a challenge. American teenagers typically must leave their jobs in mid to early August, particularly if they're involved in high school or collegiate sports programs.

It is an issue that will always plague shore towns, said Joe Flacco, manager of Alex's Pizzeria in Wildwood Crest.

"Sometimes (American teens) quit early because their parents want to spend a week with them before (college begins)," Flacco said.

Joe Kelly, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber, said successful longtime business owners plan for the shortage.

"Because we have been a resort destination for so long ... most business owners have a plan to adjust," Kelly said.

Lately, that plan has been reduced hours or fewer hires.

DeLuca said he hires more people by giving them fewer hours. He said this makes for happy employees who do not feel overwhelmed by the work day, especially if they work two jobs or want to enjoy the beach after their shift.

But slower summers at the shore have been paired with more stringent regulations for J-1 visa holders in recent years.

"As a result of the significant reforms that the (U.S. Department of State) put in place over the past few years, Summer Work Travel program participation is nearly half the size it was in 2008," said Susan Pittman, spokeswoman for the department.

She said the current number of participants nationwide is about 73,000.

The department has increased its visits to summer program sites, about 800 nationwide, and removed sponsors that have violated program regulations.

In 2012, the top five countries that participated in the program included Ireland, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Russia and Turkey. The students are attracted by the opportunity to explore a new culture and country, practice their English, and observe the economics and politics of the U.S.

For them, it's a safe environment in which to work and spend the summer, said Alex Thomas, a manager at Shriver's Salt Water Taffy & Fudge in Ocean City.

The appeal of the dry shore town is that it is easy on the pockets of the J-1 visa holders, who are not tempted to spend on nightlife activities such as those found in Atlantic City, Thomas said.

For Konstantin Marinov, 22, of Bulgaria, the last-minute decision to visit gave him the opportunity to explore a friendly country, he said.

Others, such as Kiro Nedev, 23, also of Bulgaria, said the opportunity to work at Dot's Place in Wildwood Crest gives him a chance to improve his English.

One area that has seen a significant decrease in foreign students is the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, due to regulations banning them from operating rolling chairs.

Sandra Benitez, of Atlantic City, who has been working for Royal Rolling Chairs for four years, said this isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"It's a lot better because there's not a lot of fighting anymore. Some of them used to fight (for customers), ... and people used to give us looks, like, 'What kind of business is this that you have to act this way?'" Benitez said. "Now it's more calm."

She said summers have been better along the Boardwalk, and the visitors used to come from farther distances.

"Now a majority are local, from around Jersey," Benitez said.

Contact Anjalee Khemlani:


@AnjKhem on Twitter

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