Summer’s last hurrah
WILDWOOD — A bronzed Florida man who goes by “The California King” has been working on the Wildwood Boardwalk for about 47 years.
Hank Mancuso, 77, of Fort Lauderdale, comes up for 2½ months a year. Mancuso on Wednesday said he was looking forward to another summer winding down at the Boardwalk Mall Cafe, in between squeezing lemons for lemonade.
“It’s a relief because you work hard all summer, and you’re waiting for a little (time off) with the family,” said Mancuso, wearing a tank top and a head full of blond curls.
On the Boardwalk on Wednesday, shop workers described the final push of the summer as “the last hurrah,” “the big bang,” “the finishing lap,” and, finally, “ahhh,” a chance to catch their breath after a hectic summer of hawking shirts, slices of pizza, trinkets and temporary tattoos.
As gray clouds gathered over vacationers’ heads outside, one worker described the week before Labor Day as a kind of calm before the storm.
“This is the week people start school so it’s kind of like the run-up,” said Peter Heavey, 34, of Wildwood, an assistant manager at the Original Fudge Kitchen. “Right now, it’s kind of quiet and then all of a sudden it’s just gonna pick up on Thursday up into Monday.”
At the shop at Roberts Avenue and the Boardwalk, shelves were stacked with trays of fudge. The back of the store and the basement were full too, Heavey said. Business will be booming this weekend.
“We wait for Labor Day weekend because it’s the end of the summer for a lot of us,” he said. “It’s been a busy summer, and towards the end there, we’re ready for it to kinda be (over).”
A little ways down the Boardwalk is Sunrise, a clothing store that makes the flashy screen printed T-shirts synonymous with the Jersey Shore. But with the school year starting, many at the shore are anticipating the colder months that lay ahead, said Kevin Suissa, 28, a manager at Sunrise.
Sweatshirts are the big seller at this time of year.
“We’ve got customers coming in from PA, from New York, from North Jersey. All they want to get is like hoodies ... for the kids, for the winter,” he said. “Which makes a lot of sense.”
He’s ready for the final rush to be over.
“We’ve still got business afterwards, but Labor Day is really like ‘ahhh,’” Suissa said. “You can really relax after that.”
Plenty of workers seemed to agree.
“We start the season looking forward to Labor Day,” said Mena Abouelgheet, 27, assistant manager at Karma, which sells henna tattoos, piercings and bongs, among other things.
For those who oversee operations on Boardwalks along the Jersey Shore, there isn’t much of a break. Anthony Catanoso, owner of Steel Pier amusements in Atlantic City, said Labor Day weekend is usually the second busiest weekend for them after the Fourth of July. But the rides are open on weekends until October, and the Ferris wheel is open until January.
“It doesn’t stop, because once we start gearing down we start preparing for next year,” Catanoso said. “We don’t really get a break.”
Similarly, at Boardwalk Mall Cafe, they often offer half-price discounts on Labor Day weekend. And when the crowds depart, the staff will start to stock and plan for next summer, and ready themselves for the slate of popular festivals in town throughout the fall, where they will be selling food, Mancuso said.
Those who staff pizzerias, rides, games and souvenir shops do have a break to look forward to. Just down the boards, Vicky Penn, 60, of Wildwood Crest, sat on the counter at her water gun game booth at Lou’s Games. With a rainbow of plush toys all around her, Penn said she was looking forward to Labor Day.
After about 15 years on the job, she knows the boards this weekend will be the territory of large groups of teenagers — not families — as the school year gets underway. How much business they can expect will depend on a few factors.
“It goes by the weather,” Penn said. “If the weather’s not good, they won’t come.”