How's the tourism industry faring on the Jersey Shore so far this summer?
Depends on whom you ask and where they are. Some merchants have dramatic tales of woe while other industry experts predict a slight boost in revenue in some areas over last year.
In Atlantic City, owners of apparel stores along the boardwalk cite dramatic dips in sales.
Beachside Fashions didn't have any physical damage from Superstorm Sandy, but the damage to the store's bottom line has been dire.
"We are losing everyday," said owner Sajida Chaudhry, who reports her sales are just 30 percent of what they were last year. She thinks many tourists worry about storm damage, even through Atlantic City's main boardwalk was largely spared.
"We have not paid the rent for three months," Chaudhry said.
Other shop owners on the boardwalk report similar hardships, but the beaches may be a different story.
"I think we're on target," said Rod Aluise, the superintendent and chief of the Atlantic City Beach Patrol. "People realize we're open. They've done a lot of promotion, a lot of advertising."
Further north, Long Beach Island is receiving large numbers of daily and weekend visitors, but the weekly rental market is still suffering.
"I'm going to say that our weekly rentals are off about 30 percent," said Long Beach Township Mayor Joe Mancini, who also works in real estate. "So we have plenty of property if you want to come down and join us."
In addition to trying to rebound from Sandy, Jersey shore towns are also coming off of the wettest June on record. Powerful thunderstorms brought high winds and almost 9 inches of rain to the state.
The volatile weather may have people watching the forecasts closer this year.
"The hotels have been telling me that people have been waiting until the last minute to book, but they are coming," said Jeanne DeYoung, Monmouth County Tourism Director. "For the most part, our larger hotels are booked and the bed and breakfasts are booked, though not as strong as in years in past."
Last year, Monmouth County brought in $2.1 billion in tourism revenue.
"Are we going to see $2.1 billion this year?" wonders DeYoung. "I'm not sure, but I'd love it."
Cape May County
New Jersey's southern most county is expecting an increase of about 3 percent on the $5.2 billion in tourism revenue it brought in last year, due in part to efforts to extend the season beyond the summer months and the addition of some new visitors who typically summer elsewhere.
"We found that in December, [many realtors] were already at their January goals," said Diane Wieland, the director of tourism for Cape May County, which was less damaged during Sandy than its northern neighbors. "Many said they were new people, who were saying they were concerned that they couldn't get their beach block accommodations in the northern beaches and [said], 'We don't want to miss out, so we're making our reservations in Cape May County.'"
But not every local business has cheery reports.
"Some are saying they're 50 percent off, which is scary," said Wieland. "Others are saying it's not too bad."
Still, many in the tourism industry have high hopes for the rest of the summer.
"On nice days, when we do have festivals, attendance is up," said Robert Hilton, the executive director of the Jersey Shore Convention & Visitors Bureau. "Beach attendance is up when we have good weekends like the 4th of July."
Hilton said overnight stays during May and June were down slightly, but on par with other rainy years, prompting many hotels to partner with local attractions for discounted package deals. There are also fewer rental units on the market, as each homeowner moves at their own pace to fix damaged homes.
"No matter how hard everyone tries, there's a process of recovery," he said. "It's just like having an operation in a hospital. You can't have an operation and wake up the next day and expect to go run a marathon."
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