Declining barrier island populations

    When I wrote about the Ocean City BYOB issue in April, I said that, if I were a restauranteur, I wouldn’t want to open a restaurant there because of the declining year round population, which has dropped 24 precent in the last decade.

    This isn’t just an Ocean City problem.

    Yesterday, Douglas Bergman of Ocean City Patch reported that Ocean City’s Board of Education okayed taking in more Sea Isle students next school year. Sea Isle already pays to send students in grades 4 through 12 to Ocean City. If the plan goes forward, the remaining 23 kids — yes only 23, in grades kindergarten through third grade will go to Ocean City schools too. 

    If you’re a year round shore resident, have you noticed a difference?Tell us in the comments below.

    Year round populations on barrier islands has been dropping, due largely to catapulting housing values down the shore. In 2000, 2,143 people lived in Avalon, and 1,128 lived in Stone Harbor. Those numbers came in at 1,334 and 866, respectively, in 2010. Even Cape May, which has the most vibrant year round population of all the shore towns, dropped from 4,043 year round residents to 3,607.

    Year round families sold their homes and moved inland — and could you blame them when the median selling price for a single family home in Avalon and Stone Harbor is $1,100,000 and in April, a vacant lot in Avalon sold for $999,999?

    At the same time, a lot of people who owned shore houses that they rented out for most of the summer also sold. Some of those new owners continue to use those homes as rentals, but there’s a lot who bought those rentals and turned them into their exclusive second homes.

    This trend has been changing the South Jersey Shore. Fewer year round residents means far less life in the off season. Not as many restaurants stay open. Shops don’t have as big an incentive to stay. Ocean City has never felt so empty as it did last winter.

    In 2009, I listened as the owner of a bar in Sea Isle lamented about how he couldn’t find good servers anymore. He wasn’t seeing the same batches of teachers who would live down the shore for the summer so they could work in the bars and restaurants. They couldn’t afford the rent. As for those 20-somethings who were there, living in their parents’ houses for the summer?

    “The kids who are here now — they don’t have to work. Most of the applicants have never worked before,” he said as one of his new servers, with a look of panic on her face, tried to navigate the crowd around the bar.

    Another restauranteur told me then that he would never open a restaurant on those barrier island towns because all those houses being second homes now meant fewer people coming down the shore in the summer, too. If those homes don’t have a new family vacationing inside every week of the summer and instead people who use it a few weekends during the summer and maybe a full week in August, you have less people who want to go out seven nights a week (he opened up two restaurants at the North Jersey Shore instead, where the shore towns are attached to the mainland, and where some people commute back and forth to NYC).

    What to do about it?

    I don’t think there’s anything anybody can do, but Sea Isle and Ocean City consolidating their school districts is a sign of what these shore towns must do: stick together. Share services (at some point this summer, I’ll write about why the Wildwoods should be one town, not four). 

    If you’re a year round shore resident, have you noticed a difference? Let us know in the comments below.

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