Despite fears Covid-19 would cancel summer as we know it at the Jersey Shore, a walk through Cape May’s picturesque Washington Street outdoor mall over Labor Day Weekend looked surprisingly, well, normal.
Kids clasping dripping ice cream cones. Couples posing for photos in front of the trickling old stone fountain. Sunburnt families crowding around benches as they wait for a hostess to call their party for dinner.
Look beyond these paradigmatic summer scenes, and the numbers underneath tell a more complex story. It’s one that varies from business to business, industry to industry and Shore town to Shore town.
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in the region encompassing Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties was above 21% in July, among the highest in the country. The median price of home sales, on the other hand, shot up 26% the same month as buyers looking to enjoy quarantine at the Shore flocked to scoop up vacation homes.
Some businesses say they’ve thrived from boosts in local travel and are optimistic about an “endless summer” as families stay into the offseason to work and learn from the Shore. Others spent the abbreviated summer struggling and might not make it through the long winter.
The same disparity can be seen when looking at the Shore as a whole, with hotel revenues rebounding much more quickly in Cape May and Ocean counties, as family-oriented destinations that allowed people to enjoy the Shore within their “bubbles” fared better than Atlantic City’s casinos.
While the final totals of how the Shore survived the summer of 2020 are still being tallied, it’s clear nearly every business was forced to reinvent itself in some shape or form — and those changes could reshape the future of the Shore’s economy.
One town, different stories
Just in Cape May, summer experiences among local businesses were far from the same.
On one end of the Washington Street Mall, Michele Konopka and her husband Tom are counting their blessings. They own clothing and gift store Beachlove, and first started out the season worried about what kind of impact the pandemic would have on their summer. To try and draw in more shoppers, they diversified their inventory beyond women’s items and added men’s and children’s clothes and accessories, which they said has helped draw in more customers than they had last year.