Is the Jersey Shore summer season going to be longer this year? In a way, yes, thanks to the coronavirus.

Posted Aug 23, 2020

The coronavirus is a force so formidable it has altered the changing of the seasons, slowing the arrival of some and extending the length of others.

In New Jersey, one example is that the Rutgers football season won’t start until the spring, if at all, after the Big 10 conference decided against letting 22 players at a time huddle up, block, and tackle wearing only the kind of face masks that prevent broken jaws and noses. Football is just one sport that’s been postponed.

On the Jersey Shore, the virus has extended this year’s summer season, where rental industry leaders say a late-season spike in rentals means September is the new August. This after an unusually busy June made it seem like July came early. And even October, traditionally a marginal month time for bookings, looks to be much busier this year.

“That’s definitely what we’ve been seeing,” said Duane Watlington, vice president of the New Jersey Shore Rentals Coalition, who operates three online listing sites totaling 16,500 properties up and down the Shore.

“What we saw in June, June was an extension of summer early, and we’re seeing a late extension in September, and possibly in October, too, believe it or not,” added Watlington, who also owns a rental property on Long Beach Island.

For example, Watlington said traffic on his site for the week of August 12-18 was up 67% from the same week in 2019. The number of views by would-be renters on LBI jumped from 16,370 during that period last year, to 27,397 views this past week, with the overwhelmingly majority of them eying stays in September or beyond, Watlington said.

At Shore Service, an Avalon-based business that supplies sheets, blankets, pillow cases and other linens used in rental properties, is a kind of bedtime barometer of nights booked in its area of Atlantic County.

“We are noticing an uptick,” said owner Christina McNamara. “Even just next weekend, which is normally when things start to calm down because kids are already heading back to school, but our bookings are way up.”

McNamara, who spends the summer in Avalon and then heads back home to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, said she usually closes up shop in mid-September. But she’ll stay open well beyond that point this year, when the coronavirus has extended the summer season for all the reasons mentioned.

“At this point, we are staying open through September, and we’re going to see if the phone keeps ringing,” McNamara said.

One reason the Shore has been swamped by a surge of late-season renters this year, particularly from more densely populated areas, is that it’s seen as a breezy refuge along the open ocean, where families can flee the health risks and emotional stresses imposed by the virus, said Corrine Trainor, president of the Jersey Shore Chamber of Commerce. So much so, Trainor said, that the rental community can barely accommodate the extra bookings.

“The underlying theme is that there is not enough inventory for the demand,” Trainor said. “People want to get out of the city.”

The notion of the Shore as an alternate, safer location for everyday life as opposed to a vacation spot is consistent with what Trainor and others say has been a trend toward longer-than-usual bookings of multiple weeks or longer.

“I just had a guy ask me for the whole month,” said Katie Leighton, who rents a condo she owns in Avalon, in Cape May County.

Like the rental market, home sales have likewise taken off along the Shore, as people see it as a safer place to weather the coronavirus storm.

Leighton offered advice to families planning to relocate to the Shore for regular work and school: make sure the home WiFi is adequate for multiple devices streaming or otherwise working online simultaneously.

In addition to renters fleeing crowded cities and suburbs, other reasons given for the Shore’s booming late-season popularity are similar to those that made the early season extra busy: families working and schooling remotely are not constrained by having to be physically in the office or the classroom.

So, families figure, why not extend the summer even if they’re not technically on vacation?

Who wouldn’t want to spend early mornings surfing, before working a full day — or almost a full day, anyway — and then catching some late afternoon rays, followed by a romantic or relaxing evening on the deck, with the sonorous sound of waves crashing nearby? A bonfire on the beach or even a moonlight swim might not be too late even on a weeknight if you can roll right out bed and log into work or school without having to shower, get dressed and make the commute?

“‘My kids are learning remotely, so if we’re going to learn remotely we might as well do it from the Shore,’ that’s one reason,” Watlington, quoting the anecdotes he and colleagues have been hearing. “Another is young couples who don’t have kids yet.”

Shore residents and late-season bargain hunters who can schedule their getaways accordingly have long known the pleasures of late summer down the Shore.

“September’s the best month to go to the Jersey Shore, hands down,” Watlington said. “You’ve got warmer water, less crowds, and most things are still open. They call it Local Summer.”

But despite the rental boom, for many locals or businesses who rely on the summer season for the bulk of their total annual income, the pandemic that’s been a boost for Shore rental properties has not necessarily been good for them, with restaurants and bars still barred by Gov. Phil Murphy from serving indoors.

And with the varied elements of the Shore economy all interconnected, Trainor said, businesses that attract people to the Jersey Shore and closing permanently, and not even the robust rental market can survive indefinitely on its own.

“The Jersey Shore Chamber of Commerce has been asking the governor to reopen business since Memorial Day,” Trainor said. “The concern that I have is immediate, but it’s also forward-looking.”

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