Updated: Aug 21, 2020
“Men may be from Mars and women from Venus, but I'm from the Jersey Shore.” — Jennifer Farley (JWoww), MTV's Jersey Show.
By March 2020, the stars seemed completely out of line for the Jersey Shore. Towns such as Seaside Heights anticipated a disastrous summer -- their busiest and most important time of the year.
Seaside Heights, in southern Ocean County, is famous for its Boardwalk and Beach and its revenue and businesses depend on tourist and their spending in the summer. In popular culture, it's the town where the roller coaster wound up in the ocean after Super Storm Sandy and where MTV's Jersey Shore reality show kicked off its long run.
Approaching Labor Day and the traditional end of the summer at Shore, we checked in with Christopher Vaz, Seaside Heights Borough Administrator, about how his popular Jersey Shore has managed through the summer of Covid-19.
Q: What's been your more pleasant surprise this summer?
A: That there's actually been a summer worth talking about. It's not all gloom and doom. People have gotten into their cars, headed to the beach and are making the best of it.
Q: Has there been a moment when you've taken a breath and thought that it feels good to be in Seaside Heights?
A: When we first got the Boardwalk opened (May 14) and then we started implementing outdoor dining (July 2), I walked the Boardwalk and saw the businesses open, and it looked good. Outdoor dining on the Boardwalk and the Boulevard is kind of a test run for the future so that's been a positive.
Overall, I feel a sense of pride in people working together. We're all fighting the same fight. It feels good to be on the team: Team Seaside Heights.
Q: The crowds at the Shore seem to the same or larger than last year. Is that what you're seeing? A: Our weekends are larger than last year, and that was an extraordinary year. There's a lot more people on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Weekdays seem to be normal compared to last year.
Q: From a visitor's perspective, other than indoor dining and bars and big outdoor events, the experience seems to be similar to last year. Is it?
A: Walking on the Boardwalk or beach, there's virtually no difference than past years from a visitor's perspective. The bar experience may be completely different. And we don't have the summer events that we normally do like concerts and bonfires. But if you're on a mission to go to the beach and enjoy the sand and summer, it's not that different.
Q: Do you have an estimate of the percentage of Seaside Heights businesses that have closed for good?
A: A couple of businesses closed for the summer – just one or two – but I haven’t heard anyone closed for good. We’ve even had businesses expand. The microbrewery, Heavy Reel Brewing Co., is expanding and trying to open before the end of summer. Many of our business owners have been here a very long time. They are prepared to get through a bad season.
Q: Seaside Heights businesses and homes have largely avoided negative headlines in terms of crowding at bars and large house parties. Has the borough had to step in to help police businesses or has everyone mostly cooperated?
A: We normally have large crowds of young people during prom and graduation season, which is May and June. That didn't happen this year because we restricted short term rentals early on, so those crowds have been spread out over of the summer. In general, our police department is on top of it. They constantly monitor and keep an eye on the VRBO and online market places, as well as Instagram and Facebook posts. In terms of other businesses, they have been great about self-policing each other...making sure everybody is playing by the rules and following Governor Murphy’s executive orders.
Q: In 2019, beach badge revenue in Seaside Heights was $1.98 million, with parking revenue at $1.4 million. In May of this year, you estimated no revenue from the beach in May and June, and 50% of last year's revenue for July and August. Considering that the beaches were open by Memorial Day, what’s your revenue estimate now?
A: Compared to last year which was an extraordinarily good year, we are less than a half million from our goal in beach badge revenue with several weeks left. We're going to beat the beach revenue projections contained in the introduced budget. On the flip side, parking revenue is down. Hotel and motel tax revenue is down substantially. But, so far, it's been a good summer in general.
Typically, we have lifeguards on weekends only through the end of September. We're looking at adding lifeguards on weekdays. I think businesses will respond to weather accordingly.
Q: Are businesses significantly impacted by the state’s requirement that most US visitors to New Jersey self quarantine? Related to that, has the lack of International visitors hurt the borough’s business?
A: There are no Canadian plates anywhere. None from Quebec and, driving around, you used to be able to see a fair number in town. In terms of International travelers, the businesses on the Boardwalk have been hurt by lack of staffing usually available through the J-1 program (international work visa program) providing large numbers of employees who traveled here from foreign countries to work during the summer.
Q: Other than an infusion of state money, what change or changes in state policies would most benefit the town in the near term? How about for next year?
A: Restaurants need an opportunity to be open 100% indoors. Implement reasonable advice like wearing face masks and social distancing, and then leave it up to the consumer to decide if they are comfortable eating at particular restaurants. If the numbers spike, we get it. Trenton will reverse course. People are willing to follow strong reasonable leadership out of Trenton. But as long as things are presently moving on the downward slide, we have to get restaurants open 100% indoors because there's really not a lot of time left for these businesses to carry the ball across the goal.
Q: Are you seeing an increase in housing prices and rental rates with people now able to work from home instead of going into New York City or Center City Philadelphia?
A: Occupancy is up, it’s very, very strong. After the July 4th weekend, the rental market has been very very steady and very, very good. The rentals are hot all over the Jersey Shore. The residential real estate market is hot. We are getting a lot of people who are buying second homes and looking forward to retirement. In Seaside Heights the average new home, for a medium-size property is about $600,000, which compares to high $300,000s five years ago.
Q: Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi from MTV's Jersey Shore had hoped to bring her Snooki Shop Truck to Seaside Heights this month but cancelled when she realized she hadn't applied for a permit or a license. Will the Snooki's truck be heading to Seaside Heights anytime soon?
A: We haven't actually talked to her directly then or now. She just didn't know that most towns have rules about food trucks and ice cream trucks and mobile stores like her Snooki store on wheels. It certainly wasn't personal. The Borough’s Instagram account follows Snooki. We know from what she posts that her store sells a lot of really nice merchandise, and we had hoped we could find a way for her to be here with the truck in a way that complies with our Borough Code.