Traffic was lighter. Bridges were less traveled. And by many accounts, this summer at the New Jersey shore was slower than last year.
However, a stronger August may have helped salvage some of the season, as traffic on the Garden State Parkway and Cape May County bridges in South Jersey picked up from lows in June and July.
"It was a roller coaster kind of summer," said Wes Kazmarck, owner of the Surf Mall in Ocean City and president of the Ocean City Boardwalk Merchants Association.
Kazmarck said he had to discount some of his beach merchandise in August to get through the inventory, but the month and early September were busy enough to offset most of the slow start.
"I'll take it … considering the ground I had to make up. I didn't break records, but I'm not going to starve," he said.
Some economic tourism barometers in South Jersey show just how weak the season started, driven by one of the wettest Junes on record.
Traffic on the Garden State Parkway at the Great Egg Toll Plaza southbound and the Cape May Toll Plaza northbound was down nearly 7 percent in June and 3 percent in July from the same periods in 2012. August was slightly up from last year. Overall, there were 138,773 fewer vehicles at those tolls in June, July and August than last year, a 3 percent drop.
Toll revenues at the Cape May County Bridge Commission revealed similar results.
Combined revenues for bridges at Middle Thorofare, Grassy Sound, Townsends Inlet, Corsons Inlet and Ocean City-Longport for June, July and August were down about 4 percent, or about $60,000 less than last year.
"We're saying it was a soft season," said Diane Wieland, director of the Cape May County Department of Tourism.
"One of the things we all have to take a look at is the new normal. People's spending habits are changing, and it's more of a debit than a credit society, and families are trying to pay down debt. … At the end of the day, it's fewer dollars," Wieland said. "We're not seeing that changing anytime soon, and we all have to readjust our business practices and our expectations."
In Ocean City, revenue from beach tags reached about $3.9 million this year, down about $66,000 from last year, said Frank Donato, the resort's financial management director.
Tag sales were lagging about $100,000 by May 31, but midseason sales picked up somewhat, he said.
"I think when you look at the season overall and the last two weeks of July and the first two weeks in August, that's really when the season started to pick up and make a comeback," he said.
In Sea Isle City, revenue from beach tags reached $1.34 million this year, nearly $14,000 less than last year, the city reported.
In Cape May, tag sales increased about $30,000, to $1.98 million, through Labor Day-but less than projected-because the city this year increased daily tags by $1 and seasonal tags bought after March by $3, City Manager Bruce MacLeod said.
"Based on the review of the summer, there were 39 days where the weather conditions were not optimal, meaning that either it rained or there might have been high wind … weather was seen as a big contributing factor," he said.
Hotel-occupancy taxes were down in Cape May and Atlantic counties in June and July, the latest months available.
The state hotel-occupancy tax - which collects 5 percent of hotel rates - was down $82,122 in Atlantic County for June and July, a 6 percent decline from last year, according to the state Division of Taxation. In Cape May County, the difference was $141,046 less, a 4 percent decline. The figures don't include taxes some municipalities may impose.
Traffic into Atlantic City on the Atlantic City Expressway has been down, in terms of automobiles and casino buses.
There were about 95,000 fewer bus passengers into Atlantic City in June and July than the same months last year, a nearly 19 percent decline, according to data from the South Jersey Transportation Authority, or SJTA. In August, bus passengers were down about 13 percent from a year ago.
Traffic at the Pleasantville Toll Plaza was down about 157,000 vehicles in June and July, about 4 percent less than a year ago, according to SJTA data. In August, traffic was down about 1.5 percent from August 2012.
"The other reality is the entire South Jersey community, Cape May and Atlantic, are still feeling the aftereffects of Superstorm Sandy … not that there was damage to the area as a tourist destination, but the perception lingers the Jersey Shore is not what it was," said Israel Posner, executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism.
"The bright side - the impact of the enhancements at the Steel Pier and the Margaritaville and Landshark (Bar & Grill) created a tremendous amount of foot traffic along the Boardwalk," he said.
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