Each year from April to June, teenagers heading from their senior prom to a weekend getaway flood into towns along the Jersey shore. Armed with false eyelashes, blankets, and even cleaning supplies, high schoolers check in to group rentals each spring weekend.
Though prom is exciting in its own right, the celebration truly starts in these seaside suites, where teens host after-parties all weekend long.
Recently, teen-oriented rental businesses have been popping up along the coast from Seaside Heights to Wildwood in order to cater to this niche market.
Tom Partyka is the owner and operator of Tom’s Beach House Rentals, which specifically markets to teens during prom season. He said the special prom house experience is what makes it worth it to risk renting to young people.
“They’ve been waiting 12 years for this experience to come for after prom … Obviously, you can make money on it also, but the main thing is to give these kids a fun, safe time down here,” he said.
Tom’s Beach House Rentals offers four houses in Seaside Heights. The town is a hot spot for post-prom activity, which has been a sore point. “They vandalize, they use foul language, they drink underage. We’ve worked hard to change our image from the days of Snooki and MTV,” said Seaside Heights Mayor Anthony Vaz in an interview with NJ.com in 2018, lamenting that it makes it harder to market to families.
Partyka’s website boasts four houses dubbed “The PromPound” as perfect for hosting large post-prom groups.
A typical prom weekend takes careful planning. Groups will call months in advance to check for availability and must leave a half-down deposit to reserve houses for the weekend. At Partyka’s houses, a person 18 or older will sign the lease, and every member of the group will sign their name to agree to the rules of the property. They even have to pay individually, $200 for two nights, per person. Upon arrival, an orientation outlines the rules once again. Before leaving for home, the teens may have to wait for around an hour while the owners check for damages.
If there’s anything that seems bound to come with a gaggle of high schoolers away from home, it’s damages. Partyka, though, feels he knows the key to good behavior.
“If you respect these young adults and treat them like young adults, you will gain respect back from them and they’re less prone to cause any damages or be disrespectful,” he said.
“Overall … people were pretty respectful,” said Jen Hoffman, a 2018 graduate of Eastern Regional High School in Camden County. Hoffman organized one senior prom house in Ocean City, last year.
Any party is bound to have accidents, but she remembers one close call that could have been devastating.
“Someone … accidentally left the stove on, and a stack of red Solo cups fell on it, and they started burning … the house almost caught on fire,” she said. “My boyfriend saw it and put out the fire really quick. It was just small, but that could have been really bad.“
As for getting parental approval for the shore weekend, Partyka believes he has a winning pitch for his location.
“The parents know that there’s someone that really cares about [the kids], because we do 24-hour security, all family-run, on the property at all times,” he said.
Hoffman, on the other hand, said that her friends’ parents didn’t take much convincing. Though her group’s parents required them to stay in Ocean City to avoid a “sketchy” neighborhood in Wildwood, “they got to talk to each other, and none of them wanted to make their kid sit out and be upset.”
The post-prom shore tradition has been around long enough that even protective parents expect it. Terry Goldlust, a mother of five from Cherry Hill, says she doesn’t see the practice ending or changing any time soon.
“I don’t think [prom house] has changed much at all over the years … I mean I remember going down the Shore after my prom,” Goldlust said. “I think, if anything, the kids are safer now because the consequences they face are a lot more serious if something goes wrong,” she said.
Goldlust said she wasn’t worried about sending her kids to prom houses, as she felt confident that they would be able to enjoy themselves safely.