Labor Day is the last holiday weekend before the summer beach season comes to an end along the Jersey Shore. This is the first summer since Hurricane Sandy devastated coastal towns in a region that relies on $40 billion in yearly tourism spending. In hard-hit parts of the Jersey Shore, the recovery is slow, but towns that avoided major damage have seen record numbers of tourists.
The city of Long Branch, N.J., claims the title of the first seaside resort. Seven U.S. presidents vacationed there in the 1800s. Sandy destroyed parts of Long Branch's boardwalk. But even with the setback, the city is closing in on a record year in both the number of visitors and dollars spent.
Esther Cohen owns Cedars and Beeches Bed and Breakfast inside a Victorian mansion four blocks from the beach. Cohen's business is coming close to breaking sales records. "There's not only weekend business, but there's a lot of midweek business like conferences, some of which, ironically, are as a result of Sandy," she says.
Much of New Jersey's tourism revenue comes from its barrier islands, which were especially hard hit by Sandy. Itzhak Manor owns Beach Authority in Lavallette, just north of Seaside Heights. "We sell beach supplies, from beachwear, toys for the kids, umbrella chairs, anything you need for the beach," says Manor.
Beach Authority has two locations, one of which was completely destroyed by Sandy. Manor lived above that store. "And instinctively, the whole human race is built on 'to rebuild,' and you really don't think so much on the consequences of what will happen after that," Manor says.
He used some of his savings and borrowed a little more money to rebuild the store he lived above. Now he regrets it. His business is down by about 35 percent. Countywide tourism revenue is down 16 percent. But what really upsets Manor is his insurance company, which he says has yet to pay his claim.