good summer/bad summer

People head to the crowded Ocean City beach near 10th Street on Saturday, the last weekend of the pre-Labor Day summer tourist season.

Ben Fogletto

It was the hottest of times this summer, at least in July, when Atlantic City International Airport had an entire week of days with highs in the 90s — surrounded by weather almost that hot.

But it was also the coolest of times for much of August, with temperatures not getting higher than 80 for almost half the days in the month.

June saw the wettest of times ever at the Atlantic City Marina, with 9.55 inches of rain — and topping an 83-year-old record for the month by more than an inch. That June total was more than triple the month’s normal precipitation for the area.

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Add all those extremes up, and 2013 has had the weirdest of summers for much of the New Jersey shore.

Of course, this always figured to be an unusual, unpredictable summer at the shore, it being the first one after Hurricane Sandy. And the storm’s aftermath has definitely left its impressions on the season, even in areas where the hurricane didn’t do its worst damage.

On the Ocean City Boardwalk, a random survey of business owners and managers turned up assessments of the season ranging from “the worst ever” to “excellent” — and that was just within a few blocks of each other.

“It’s been a little off,” said Harmon Ahluwalia, who owns Silver Secret, a 12-year-old business that specializes in jewelry and perfume. “And days like these don’t help.”

He said that on a late-August night, when the rain that fell for much of the day was showing signs of starting up again. Ahluwalia said he was certain the weather was a prime suspect in causing a phenomenon he noticed this summer.

“We’re not getting a lot of day-trippers,” he said. “The day business has been off for us.”

Then again, that could be Sandy-related. Ahluwalia said he has been visited by longtime customers who were “surprised … that our business was totally spared.” He has talked to local real estate agents who had potential renters asking them, “‘Is it worth coming this summer?’” Ahluwalia reported. “They say, ‘Is the Boardwalk open?’”

But just a few blocks north, at the Boardwalk’s oldest business, Shriver’s Salt Water Taffy & Fudge, manager Igor Dukov said business has been “the best, excellent. We did great.”

Then again, after nine years at Shriver’s, Dukov is sure the store’s location — on the boards at Ninth Street, the town’s main entrance and exit — always helps.

“It’s the Times Square of Ocean City,” he said, as the crowd started swelling again at the counter and he had to stop talking and get back to work.

That same wide range of opinions seemed to swing back and forth, up and down the shore.

“It’s been a lot better than we anticipated, due to the uncertainty of the repairs to homes on (Long Beach Island),” said Diane Frey, marketing director for Fantasy Island Amusement Park in Beach Haven and a member of the third generation running the family-owned business. “It was definitely a decent summer. … On the Fourth of July, we were completely filled. And after that, it was like the storm never happened.”

But before that, there was no doubt Sandy had paid a visit to Fantasy Island.

“We were completely underwater,” Frey said. “There was no structural damage, but we had to have all the buildings gutted.”

And even after the arcade reopened this year — it normally stays open on weekends year-round — the weather still haunted the business. The park’s rides are outside, so they can’t open in the rain, which definitely hurt in that supersoaker of a June.

“We really did go through a lot,” Frey said. “It was very uncertain and very scary, but we didn’t give up, and we rebuilt. And I would say most of the island is back to normal, and they rebuilt.”

Ed Berger, president of the Margate Business Association, said it’s been a mixed summer for the Absecon Island town.

“I don’t think anybody did the numbers they wanted to do this summer,” Berger said. “The general consensus was that business was off, but it wasn’t horrible.”

That has something to do with the fact that “everyone kind of got kicked in the chops going into it” by Sandy, but Berger sees sociology at work along with meteorology.

Lots of families used to spend “a week at a time at the shore, and the father would go home to work during the week. But now there are just as many working moms as working dads” — which translates into fewer families spending blocks of time in vacation spots.

“So businesses that used to be able to count on 100 solid days a summer can’t anymore,” Berger added. “Now, weekends are still strong, but not the midweeks.”

Ben Rose, director of marketing and public relations for the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority, said there’s no definitive answer for that island’s summer, either.

“We’ve heard from some hoteliers and businesses that they’ve done very well and from others that the season was not as good as last year,” Rose said.

His agency gets tax-receipt numbers from the state regularly, but there’s a lag, so the latest report is from June — and that was “not a good month,” Rose said, blaming the rain. “Memorial Day weekend was not good either. … So we started out behind because of the weather.”

Some merchants say they’re thinking of changing their habits and schedules and trying to catch up a bit. In Ocean City, for example, Silver Secret usually closes after Columbus Day weekend. But the owner said he’s considering trying to stay open this year on weekends until Halloween, or maybe into November. Even on a slow night in August, a business owner can be an optimist.

“I hope you’re here next year, and I can say, ‘What a season we had — fantastic! I don’t have time to talk to you, I’m so busy,’” Ahluwalia said.

Contact Martin DeAngelis:


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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