John Schatz, co-owner of Union Park Dining Room in Cape May, is as happy for Easter Sunday to roll around as a child searching for colored eggs in the backyard. The event entails a lot of work for Schatz and his staff, but he says the result is worth it.

“Easter means the start of our season,” Schatz said. “Specifically for us, this means our Easter Sunday brunch. It’s one of the highlights of the year,considering we are a dinner-only establishment. Mother’s Day is the only other time we open early.”

On Easter Sunday, children who observe the Christian holiday — which falls today — traditionally wake up to a basket filled with candy and other treats. The goodies serve as a secular complement to a trip to church to mark the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Many area businesses rely on Easter to fill their coffers in the early part of the year. Throw in the fact that most southern New Jersey schools wrap their spring breaks around Easter, and there’s a lot riding, business-wise, on the holiday. 

The National Retail Federation’s 2011 Easter Consumer Intentions and Action Survey says the average American consumer is expected to spend $131.04 on Easter-related products this year, up from $118.60 last year. Total Easter spending is expected to reach $14.6 billion nationwide.

For today’s 10 a.m. brunch, Schatz and his staff at Union Park will start work at about 6 a.m. By early afternoon, they will have prepared hundreds of orders of eggs Benedict, omelettes, French toast, roast ham and lamb for customers. They also will have turned out large quantities of bacon, sausage, quiche, smoked salmon, scallops, trout trays, mini-muffins, croissants and Danishes.

“We usually open around the first week of April, get the place cleaned up and train the staff for Easter, as it’s such a big day for us,” Schatz said. “We look forward to the Easter Sunday brunch every year and welcome it as if it were an old friend.”

Annamarie Carr, co-owner of Jagielky’s Home Made Candies in Ventnor and Margate, says Easter Sunday represents a significant part of her yearly business.

“For us, it’s only second to Christmas,” Carr said while looking over all the Easter candy in Jagielky’s Margate location. “It’s such a tradition, and I really don’t see it going away. The kids look so forward to it, and it’s a way to spread love. A lot of people choose to do that through candy.”

In the weeks leading up to Easter, the baking staff at Jagielky’s produces 2,000 half-pound chocolate eggs, 900 one-pound eggs and many batches of their mini eggs. Each batch contains 55 to 70 pounds of chocolate.

“We replenish as the weeks lead up to Easter,” Carr said. “A lot of our business is built on word of mouth, and there are many people who only come into the stores at Easter time. We have a lot of loyalty, too. People call us from as far away as Texas, Florida and California, and we ship Easter candy out to them.”

Like many traditional bakeries, Ward’s Pastry in Ocean City uses Easter as an economic bellwether. With the holiday being later than usual this year and the weather taking so long to warm up — even by the usual standards of spring in southern New Jersey — Easter this year will be followed quickly by tourist season, especially in places such as Ocean City.

So the foot traffic at Ward’s and the amount of hot-crossed buns sold today could mean much more than one day’s profit.

“The Easter bunny has it all over the groundhog,” said Walt Hohman, the owner and baker of Ward’s. “It’s the first real holiday of the year, and people want to get out of their houses and shop downtown. Easter is a strong indicator of the upcoming season by the amount of new and returning customers we see. Their spending habits on Easter weekend can signal a whole lot.”

One tradition that has not gone by the wayside is buying Easter flowers for loved ones. But one flower shop owner says the way they are purchased may be changing. 

Years ago, Marie’s Flower Shoppe in North Wildwood would be filled with customers in the days before Easter, but that is no longer the case, said Sharon Roman, the shop’s owner. Roman said she still stocks her store with 30 percent more inventory for Easter than during a normal April week, but her flower business was off this year compared with past Easters.

“The concept of buying from a florist is dying off, I think,” Roman said. “In the past, if you didn’t go to a florist, you at least went to a local garden center and bought a potted plant. Now, I think it’s a matter of convenience. People are buying food in a supermarket, and they just get their Easter flowers there, or they stop at a temporary roadside stand.”

The lateness of this Easter has benefited Roman’s shop by allowing for a wider variety of plants — a small saving grace, in her opinion.

“When Easter’s in mid-March, it limits what you can sell,” she said. “The more colorful the flowers you have in your shop, the more you hope they catch people’s eye. But the people have to be there in the first place.”

Many pets may spend the Easter-centric spring break at kennels while their owners travel. Dennis Minton, co-owner of Somers Point Kennels, said he typically sees a spike in business around Easter, but not as much this year.

“Many years, we’ll see a lot of dogs in here on Thursday and Friday while people travel for Easter Sunday,” Minton said. “This year, that wasn’t the case when it came to advance bookings. I don’t know if it’s the economy or what, but a lot of motels — and even the casinos — are allowing people to keep their pets with them.”

Showboat Casino Hotel began allowing dogs to stay with guests in February.

Jagielky’s Carr said she spends extra money to advertise for Easter, but she found a novel way to get the word out this year. She participated in Ventnor’s inaugural Chef’s Night Out — a promotional tour of the city’s restaurants and other food-related businesses — on April 3, providing dessert. Jagielky’s was the only candy shop on the tour.

“Our Ventnor store was the last stop, and in the sample we included a taste of all our Easter products,” Carr said. “I had at least 25 people come up to me and say, ‘We’ll be back to the store for some more of that.’”

Contact James Clark:

609-272-7262