By John Burton
It’s been all about the weather this summer.
Even as the summer season slips into “unofficial fall” with Labor Day weekend upon us, nice weather has offered seasonally dependent area businesses a much-needed influx of activity and a respite for those seeking a day of fun in the sun.
“To me, this is what summer should be,” said Jay Giberson, a bartender for Windansea restaurant in Highlands.
Giberson said the relatively not-too-hot temperature, low humidity and seemingly few rainy days – especially on weekends – “has just been killin’” for business at the outdoor dining and bar areas, he said.
“If anyone is complaining about this weather, they should move,” said David Robinson, the state climatologist at Rutgers University. “Over the whole summer, the weekends have been fantastic.”
He noted there were only two weekends when the weather may have washed out outdoor activities.
What we’ve seen this summer is temperatures that really are only slightly cooler than normal, down about 2½ degrees below average for August. But that little bit of cooler weather came after four consecutive summers that were some of the hottest in more than the last century, according to Robinson.
Now, “it’s really closer to normal,” if one looks at the trend, he said.
As far as rainfall, that too has been within the normal range. “But not overwhelming in most locations and timely enough to keep things pretty green,” he said.
The reason is a continuation of what the area experienced over the winter. The persistent cool air patterns that chilled us to the bone last winter are still dominant, suppressing the warm and humid air making its way up from Bermuda this summer. That’s keeping temperatures in check, Robinson said.
“Summer’s been phenomenal,” said Doug Lentz, owner of the Inlet Café, also a Highlands eatery and bar overlooking Sandy Hook Bay.
Like other locations in this community, it was a tough time getting rebuilt, repaired and up and running in Sandy’s aftermath, Lentz noted. Now things have turned a corner.
“We’ve come through it so well. We’ve been able to move forward,” he said. “I hope this weather lasts another two months.”
While some worked on the clear, warm Tuesday, Antoine Antoun of Bloomfield was down with his friends giving the local fluke population something to worry about, fishing in the local waters.
“The summer’s been good, nice,” Antoun said, seemingly grudgingly. When asked about his reservations, he explained, “We didn’t have enough warm days for the kids to swim.” His wife and children usually like it a little hotter when they accompany him. He goes fishing while they go to the beach at Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook, he said.
Peter Chalet, a Nutley resident who accompanied Antoun, dismissed Antoun’s complaints. “Summer’s beautiful for me this year,” he said.
His only complaint? “I didn’t have enough time to enjoy it.”
The good weather is bringing people to the beaches.
Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook has collected $2.5 million in parking fees this year. Last year at this point, the park, mostly open but still recovering from the damaged Sandy caused to the park, collected $2.3 million, prior to Labor Day weekend, according to John Warren, a National Park Service spokesman. But this year there has been a bump in fees from 2012, pre-Sandy, when the park collected $2.45 million by this time in the season.
Sandy Hook does not charge for individual beach attendance; the park charges a flat parking rate of $15 per car, regardless of the number of occupants. The National Park Service increased the fees for the 2012 summer to $15 from $10.
“I honestly feel it’s been a great summer and I think it’s been the weather,” said Jason Julio, assistant manager at the Monmouth Beach Bath and Tennis Club, a private membership club at 65 Ocean Ave.
Julio wouldn’t talk membership numbers but did note that business at the club’s restaurant and snack bar has been very brisk, clear indicators that members have been spending time here during the summer.
“I think the weather plays a part in the business end of it,” he said.
As a longtime seasonal employee – he’s a teacher for the rest of the year – Julio said, “It’s probably the fastest summer I’ve ever had” because they have stayed busy and haven’t lost days to inclement weather.
“Just look around,” he said, indicating the nearly full parking lot on a late Tuesday afternoon. “This is good.” During the spring, Sea Bright’s Mayor Dina Long said early season beach badge sales had rebounded after a lackluster post-Sandy 2013. While numbers for daily badges sales were unavailable, Sea Bright’s public beach operations manager, Don Klein, said in no uncertain terms, “It’s been busy. The weather’s been wonderful and people want to come out to the Jersey Shore.”
Anecdotally, Klein said attendance has been particularly brisk for the last two or three weeks which had solid weather.
He suspects people are realizing their beach days are numbered.
“People are happy to have that experience and we’re happy to see them,” he said.
Chief John Sorrentino said he’s seen more people and traffic in the community. “People are coming to the beach and they’re all eating ice cream and hamburgers.”
“The hotter it gets the busier it gets,” is Sorrentino’s take on police calls during the summer. This year, he said, calls for service have been average.
Brian McMullin, who owns and operates Gracie and the Dudes, an ice cream shop on Sea Bright’s Ocean Avenue, said, “We had an exceptional summer. We’re very happy with that.”
After a forced closing and rebuilding from Sandy damage, things have picked up, McMullin said. In part, the weather has cooperated but maybe more importantly, he thinks “Sea Bright looks better.” He sees the contributing factors as the fact that more businesses are returning and the municipal lot parking has been renovated for patrons and beachgoers.
Statistics from the Monmouth County Department of Information and Tourism for the summer aren’t available yet, said Laura Kirkpatrick, the department’s director. However, the impression she’s been getting is “I don’t think it was record breaking but it was a good solid summer.”
All the boardwalks in the county, damaged and destroyed by Sandy, have returned; the last one, located in Ocean Grove, reopened early this summer and offered a shot in the arm for that community, Kirkpatrick said.
Some though haven’t seen any benefit.
Jean’s Canvas Shop on Highway 36 in Middletown’s Belford section displays the beach supplies and shore gift items it sells – including beach chairs, umbrellas and toys – along the highway in front of the shop. While it’s a convenient stop for those traveling to Sandy Hook and other beach areas, owner Kerry Wilkens said things haven’t been wonderful this summer.
“Our numbers are a duplication of last year, which is to say not great,” he said
“The restaurant people are happy,” Wilkens said. But for his business, “You have to go back more than four years for quality numbers.”
Traffic along the highway isn’t what it used to be, he said, believing day-tripper business hasn’t rebounded and Sandy Hook’s higher fees compound the situation.
Elizabeth Leonardis, owner of the Beach Boutique on the southern end of Sea Bright, said she’d rather have seen a hotter summer.
“You sell a lot more beach items when it’s 90 degrees,” she said, noting that during one 90-degree day last summer she sold 48 umbrellas.
While her business for July was off, it has rebounded in August. “When it’s hot, it drives people out to the shore,” Leonardis said.
The state climatologist, Robinson, has some advice for Leonardis and others.
“I wouldn’t put the air conditioners and fans away just yet,” he said. While temperatures begin to cool in late August and September from their traditional July and August highs, there have been some significant early September heat waves in the past. And, he added, reports show it should be warm for the next couple of weeks.
That’s fine with the Inlet Café’s Lentz.
Recalling the harsh weather last winter, he said, “We’ll probably be shoveling snow in eight weeks. He then stopped, thought for a second and changed his mind. “Six weeks.”