On a Saturday afternoon in February, as a cloudy sky gives way to a light rain, the first thing on the mind of Ocean City Fudge Kitchen employee Bradley Cesanek is to make sure he has enough samples of fudge to offer visitors.
“Sample?” Cesanek says to a family of four passing by the business.
On this day, the temperature won’t reach much higher than 45, and the wind and light rain make it feel much colder. Still, Cesanek, armed with an apron and a full platter of fudge samples, stands outside the shop in short sleeves. Employees here say they manage to keep busy during the winter months, with a steady crowd of visitors, especially during the early afternoon hours.
News of winter business along the boardwalk is something members of the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce continue to track.
“We really do have a lot of people who come Thursday through Monday,” Michele Gillian, Executive Director of the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce said by phone.
Gillian says the real estate market is also seeing the benefits of the mild winter.
In a recent board of realtors meeting earlier this month, members were told indicators this year were already up 5-7 percent over last year for people who had applied for rental properties. Gillian says Ocean City is already ahead of where it was last year in renting out vacant properties.
“Last year, we did well, but we hope to do better this year,” Gillian said.
The promising start to 2012 and a solid 2011 comes after a dismal 2009-2010 rental season, when Gillian says rentals were sluggish because of the state of the economy.
Of course, warmer weather in mid-February certainly helps, but Gillian also believes some credit goes to the area’s second homeowners, who bring along friends during their winter visits this year to check on their shore properties.
According to the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce, Ocean City is the biggest municipality in the state for second-homeowners, with 13,000 owning homes here.
Gillian says Ocean City’s location is one reason for its popularity. Atlantic City is just a short drive away, and Ocean City’s downtown area is easily accessible.
Because of this, Ocean City is continuing to push its year-round activities, especially this year. The local tourism bureau has optimized its website to help create a more user-friendly experience for visitors looking to get away for a day or two.
The push to make Ocean City a destination spot is certainly something the employees at the Fudge Kitchen have noticed.
The Eighth Street shop is one of a few local businesses open on this part of the boardwalk this winter. The Chamber of Commerce expects that number to grow significantly by Palm Sunday weekend, which is considered the unofficial start to the Jersey Shore season.
By that point, some 90 percent of businesses will be open to visitors.