BELMAR, N.J. (AP) - The second summer of COVID-19 at the Jersey Shore is likely to look much different than last year's: Many virus restrictions have been lifted, nightclubs and dance floors will be packed again, and restaurants and bars can serve full crowds indoors.
Shore towns report brisk beach badge sales as they drop capacity limits they put in place last summer to keep people further apart on the sand. Ocean City was closing in on $1 million worth of beach badge sales by the end of April, the earliest they had ever reached that mark.
"It’s been exceptionally busy," said city spokesperson Doug Bergen said.
The lifting of outdoor capacity limits has cleared the way for large-scale concerts to resume at venues including the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, which lists upcoming shows including Luke Bryan, Lady A, and the Jonas Brothers.
Summer rentals are seeing strong bookings. But even as vendors anticipate the return of traffic, tourists and beach-goers, some are struggling to hire staff and ramp their businesses back up to full speed. A labor shortage is making it hard for many seasonal businesses to find enough workers. And their supply chains have been disrupted by manufacturers, distribution and delivery firms who are also having trouble hiring.
In at least one place, that means it might be harder to find sprinkles for your ice cream cone.
Raj Kapoor manages a food court on the Belmar oceanfront that includes an ice cream parlor and a burrito joint. He said even simple things like stocking the store with soda is a challenge this season.
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A delivery that was promised the next day took a week and a half to show up because the distributor didn’t have enough drivers, Kapoor said. The toppings for ice cream cones are on a six-week back-order.
Kapoor has hired 14 workers this summer, in part by posting ads on the Facebook pages of local schools, but still needs eight to 10 more. That worries him, when all signs point to a gangbuster season just around the corner.
"This past week the town is already filled with college kids; all the rentals look filled," he said. "People are itching to get out."
Alex Krisulas was waiting for a pizza with his friend Ricky Mangine on the boardwalk in Asbury Park; the two Staten Island, N.Y. residents plan to go out more this summer than last.
"People are bored and really want to go out and do things," Krisulas said. "We’re looking forward to things getting back to normal."
Vacationers are also returning to the Jersey Shore, according to Ann Delaney, a real estate agent in Avalon, who said she saw more May weeks rented this year than ever before.
"For 2021, tenants are comfortable, and confident about making summer vacation plans," she said. "As a resident, I noticed that last summer was a bit noisier. Owners and tenants spent more time at home, playing games on the sidewalk, hanging out on the decks at night, gathering in their yards. With restaurants, bars, shops, and the movie theater back open, I’m hoping for a more reasonable bedtime."
New Jersey’s beaches have been repaired to fix the damage from winter erosion that washed away large amounts of sand and left 20-foot drop-offs at numerous entrance points over the dunes in places including Bay Head, Ortley Beach and Long Beach Island.
North Wildwood and Avalon trucked in huge amounts of sand to places that had eroded; sand was pumped ashore in Atlantic City, and sand was moved around to eroded spots in Cape May and Cape May Point.
"Otherwise, natural recovery addressed the erosion in most places, with a slightly narrower beach than last fall," said Stewart Farrell, director of Stockton University’s Coastal Research Center.
The Atlantic City casinos are hoping big crowds will make up for last year’s lost Memorial Day weekend, which came as the nine casinos were closed due to the virus.
Tara Smith, who runs a pizza stand on the Asbury Park boardwalk says the stand operated last summer, but lost money for the year. So far this year, business is up 70% over the typical run-up to Memorial Day weekend.
"I think this summer is going to be bigger and better than ever," she said. "A few days before Memorial Day weekend and the beaches are already packed. People are just dying to get out."