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The summer of 2020 unofficially ended in Seaside Heights, N.J. with much bigger crowds on the boardwalk than when the season began. Labor Day weekend brought the closest thing to normalcy the Jersey Shore town in Ocean County has seen all year.
“It’s been really kind of like a very quiet season initially,” said Kathleen Pansini who owns a condo in town. “The beaches were open, but you couldn’t sit on the beach. You couldn’t go in the water.”
Pansini added that more people started to come after Gov. Phil Murphy gave the go-ahead for beaches to open as the state started to lift COVID-19 shutdown orders. Even then, she said, it was light in the beginning. But the crowds grew.
“There were times like when you walked on the boardwalk, it was like walking in Times Square,” Pansini said.
Several people who spoke to WHYY News expressed similar sentiments. They said Sunday was particularly full of people.
“We thought actually we missed the party on Thursday because there was nobody here. Even Friday morning, there was nobody here,” said Jason Lew who visited from Westchester County, N.Y. with his girlfriend. This is the first time they’ve visited the beach all year. The couple usually visits at least twice a year.
He remarked that the crowd started to grow Friday evening and that by Sunday, there were beachgoers from the boardwalk to the shore.
“Sunday was packed,” he added.
It looked like the holiday, in combination with the good weather, was going to continue to bring more people to town. One of the empty municipal lots at Ocean Terrace and Grant Avenue had just a handful of cars Monday morning. But by early afternoon, the parking lot was filled.
Susan Smith, a year-round resident of Seaside Park — next door to Seaside Heights — said she has seen a lot more visitors in recent weeks.
“I’ve noticed more people down here during this pandemic,” she said, “just enjoying time outside, walking and hanging out with their family, and everyone social distances.”
Along some parts of the boardwalk, markers have been placed to encourage social distancing. Not all of the beachgoers wore masks Monday, as they are only required for indoor spaces and when social distancing cannot be achieved outdoors, according to state guidelines.
‘Something’s better than nothing’
Rachel Morris, who has worked at the Playa Bowls stand on the boardwalk for the past two summers, said this year is definitely not as busy compared to past seasons.
“[The] pandemic’s like really getting to us,” she said. “Definitely taking all of the customers away.”
However, Morris noted the Labor Day holiday was busier compared to the Fourth of July.
“We had lines, mobs,” she said. “We were running around everywhere trying to get everything done.”
Overall, business owners said they were happy to be open and that customers are coming. That’s not to say they aren’t taking a hit financially.
“Everyone’s taking a hit,” said Wayne Cimorelli, owner of several boardwalk businesses including Spicy restaurant and Coin Castle arcade. He said business at his restaurants was down 35% and the arcade was off by 65%. They were closed for a long time and won’t be able to recoup lost business, he said. Things were slow when they reopened, but business started to pick up when outdoor dining was permitted.
“I think the word I’ve been using to describe how I feel about this season is ‘grateful’ that we’re open,” he added. “Something’s better than nothing.”
Now, Cimorelli said he and other business owners are focusing on being in the best possible shape for May 2021.
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