Some visitors come to South Jersey to spend time on the beaches of Cape May and the boardwalk and beaches of Ocean City, but the downtown business district of each city also benefits from summer influx of tourists.
As the vacation season nears its end, businesses on Asbury Avenue in Ocean City and the Washington Street Mall in Cape May are hoping to squeeze out one last weekend of good weather and crowded shops.
Overall, New Jersey’s tourism industry is trending upward, with visitation to the state surging 7.4% to more than 110 million people last year, which helped increase visitors spending to $44.7 billion, according to the state’s Division of Travel and Tourism.
But even in an industry valued at $44.7 billion, it’s the little things — from sunshine to confident consumers — that can make a difference.
And this year both have been good, according to business owners.
“The economy is improved. Weather was stellar at the shore,” said Christian Leibrandt, owner of Grass Roots Music Store in Ocean City. “We have doubled the revenues of last year, not including the Internet. Internet sales, year round, keeps us going.”
Jon Talese, co-owner and manager of Jon & Patty’s Coffee Bar & Bistro on Asbury Avenue, said this summer met his expectations.
Seventy-five percent of the Jon & Patty customers specifically come to the restaurant to eat there while the other 25% are on the avenue anyway and stop in, Talese said.
Talese could have established his business 11 years ago on the Boardwalk, similar to Oves Restaurant and Browns Restaurant, but he decided against it.
“We wanted to be on Main Street. We wanted to be downtown,” said Talese, 57, who added he grew up in and his mother was born in Ocean City.
After experiencing the beach and the boardwalk, most visitors enjoy shopping next, and Asbury Avenue offers 110 boutique shops, said Michelle Gillian, executive director of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce.
More people coming into Ocean City increases the chances that the downtown businesses will do well, Gillian said.
“You can’t be out in the sun for 12 hours,” Gillian said.
After a day out in the sun sweating and wearing sunscreen, a person may need to take a nice long bath or shower. With 950 different soaps, it is unlikely that people could walk out of Bath Time on the Washington Street Mall in Cape May without finding some type of soap they liked.
Bonnie Mullock, the Bath Time owner for the past 25 years, believes this summer featured the most people in town in years.
“It’s just been wonderful, an excellent summer. People have been very happy, pleased to be here, pleased to be away,” said Mullock, who added it has been a really good year, but she will not know for sure until she runs the numbers at year’s end. “We judge it more on the people who come in, the fact that they are happy.”
Atlantic Books, based in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, closed its stores in beach resorts, including Cape May, in 2011 because they were no longer profitable.
The Cape Atlantic Book Company stepped up to fill that void eight years ago in Cape May. Patrick Young, the owner, decided to establish his business on the Washington Street Mall instead of Beach Avenue, which is closer to the ocean, because the mall is the place to shop.
“It has been an excellent summer. My numbers are up,” said Young, who added this summer has been better than last summer. “The weather has been beautiful.”
Similar to Ocean City, Cape May had more beach tags sold this summer than last summer.
As another indicator of the number of tourists that spent this past summer in Cape May County, the county paid the state $1,751,768 in occupancy taxes for the month of June, Gillian said.
“Cape May County, for sure, sent more taxes up to Trenton than anybody else,” Gillian said.