Amy S. Rosenberg The Philadelphia Investigator
OCEAN CITY — Price hikes raced up the boardwalk the other day as visitors tallied up the rising cost of pizza, not to mention the little cotton candy-flavored Polish popsicle, adding just a little insult to the wound of another chilly day in May.
“The whole pie was about $25,” said Jarrett Gibbs from Long Island, explaining why his group of friends from Penn State just bought a few slices at Manco & Manco’s. (It’s actually $24.15 there.)
Gibbs carried a modest blue popsicle, $6.50, as an entree. The cost of gas for a trip from New York? A touchy these days at around $65.
But hey, isn’t Shoreline supposed to be a little too expensive anyway? Some of those interviewed recently in Ocean City said they already expected to pay a bit more to shop on the coast. What’s left of AirBnB inventory for a family of four currently averages $714 per night in Ocean City.
That kind of thinking can save land-based shop owners too much outrage at inflation at sea. Last year, their problem was supply chain (and staff). Would there be boogie boards in stock or would they be stuck in shipping containers?
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The big concern this year is cost, says Wes Kazmarck, owner of Surf Mall in Ocean City and another store in Sea Isle City and head of Ocean City Boardwalk Merchants.
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Will people buy a $60 beach chair? That’s what Kazmarck says he should charge, because it’s costing him $30 a chair this year.
“There’s nothing that hasn’t gone up,” Kazmarck said.
Dairy products cost more, as does sugar. This means the fudge is ready. Without forgetting the other essential of the shore: real estate. The cooking oil hikes could affect everything from fried avocado ($7) to chicken tenders ($10 a cup) to French fries ($6 for a 16-ounce cup). The Margate Bridge Private Toll has been reduced from $2 to $2.25. And pickleball! A basic Stone Harbor summer pass is $250 this year, up from $90 previously.
Garbage services soared, leaving one town, North Wildwood, to cut ties with a private company they said had tried to heavily weaponize the town into paying higher rates. Mayor Patrick Rosenello said the hedge fund-owned company said that if the city didn’t agree to immediate rate hikes, “things are going to get bad. He’ll be leaving garbage on the streets.”
North Wildwood has changed supplier. “Listen: this is costing us more than our public tender contract, but less than what the contractor demanded,” Rosenello said. “We’re really nervous about the increase in diesel fuel. Our restocking of the beach is high fuel consumption. We’ve delayed bidding on a few other contracts because we know the prices are so high. We are delaying road reconstructions until the fall.”
And could that cool Shashibo shape-shifting thing for sale at Air Circus on the Ocean City Boardwalk really cost $25? (Yes, even on Amazon.) But in the real world of the Boardwalk, the folks at Air Circus were willing to trade one down to $20 cash (thanks!). So you never know. At least somewhere a price has gone down.
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How big was summer 2021?
The Shore is coming off a huge season in 2021, powered by people flexible through distance learning and remote working, others who had some cash on hand from government money in case pandemic and the lack of other travel options. People were coming down the shore in droves.
According to the Lloyd Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality & Tourism at the University of Stockton, 45.2 million visitors came to the Jersey Shore in 2021, an increase of 16% from 2020. They spent 20 $.8 billion, an increase of 28.9% over 2020.
So what’s a few extra bucks for a whole pie?
With gas prices so high, Cape May County has brought back its old marketing campaign from 2009: One Tank of Gas Away. (Last year it was the pandemic-inspired “Exciting Places, Open Spaces” program.)
“We dusted that one off,” Diane Wieland, director of tourism for Cape May County, said at the recent Shorecast event held in Stockton. “Every dollar they spend will impact discretionary spending. They will change their budget when they get here. You have to eat, but you don’t have to eat three meals a day. You don’t have to going out for expensive dinners.”
Doug Mastriano isn’t the only candidate to win a Republican primary on Tuesday after embracing former President Donald Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen. But no GOP candidate has done more to overturn this last presidential election — and perhaps no one is better positioned to overthrow the next one — than Mastriano if elected governor of Pennsylvania. He has pledged to end no-apology voting by mail, which hundreds of thousands of people used in this week’s primary. He also wants to force millions of registered voters to re-register. And he would hold additional authority over elections because Pennsylvania is one of the few states where governors have the power to appoint the secretary of state.
Oliver Cook, an economist at Stockton, predicted another robust summer, but probably not outperforming 2021’s performance. “I think it might not be as robust as last summer,” Cooke said. “There were some very unique features: so much pent-up savings and pent-up demand. Lots of fiscal stimulus has inflated household balance sheets.”
With 2022 inflation, he said, “It’s starting to become a question for many families.”
A recent report from New Jersey realtors found that the median sale price in March in Atlantic County was $347,500, up 22.8% from a year earlier. In Ocean County, the median selling price was $476,000, up 14.7% from 2021. And in Cape May County, the median selling price was $481,500, up increase of 18.9%.
Fries jobs for $21.50 an hour
Staff shortages last summer have driven wages up, with seasonal Boardwalk jobs offering upwards of $15 and $16 an hour. At Adventure Golf in Ocean City, managers were hired for up to $21.50 an hour.
But finding employees somewhere they can afford to live is another consequence of escalating prices.
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Some are totally overpriced.
With so many new owners and high selling prices, Avalon realtor Ann Delaney says rental prices have also increased, sometimes by several thousand dollars a week, and even long-term renters are find overpriced places they’ve been to for years.
But new buyers have put their homes up for rent, so there is still inventory, despite a rush in bookings last summer.
She thinks land property prices have probably peaked for now.
“We’ve had some pretty aggressive rate increases,” she said. “It was difficult. It cost some people their lives.”
Atlantic City is seeing the effects of rising prices on the shore as investors, second home owners and AirBnB hosts buy and renovate homes.
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“There’s no inventory,” said Atlantic City realtor Kim Turner-McDuffie, who said she recently closed a home in the Gardner’s Basin area near the entrance for 255,000 $, in an area where similar homes were selling for $150,000 six months ago.
“In the Gardner Basin, not a single home is for sale right now,” she said. “They all run there if one comes up for sale. They’re from out of state, which turns them into AirBnBs.”
As for Kazmarck, he wonders whether to even pay $30 wholesale to bring beach chairs and watch them not sell for $60. Instead, it stocks more beach towels for people to laze about, old school.
“I bought a lot of towels this year thinking people were going to say, I’m just going to take a towel,” he said. “They went from $12.99 to $14.99. Or $14.99 to $19.99.”