I’ve never been to an empty boardwalk and now I can understand why. It’s haunting. Empty rides. Closed arcades. The ferris wheel didn’t have chairs attached to it (I didn’t know they could come off in the first place … which is not the most assuring thought). Even in broad daylight, the lack of life and sound feels like a different universe. Mind you, it’s technically the off-season, but the prospects for any boardwalks along the East Coast are not looking good in the coming months. I think we can all predict they won’t be the same for a while.
On March 21st, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy issued a “stay-at-home” order, encouraging families not to flee to their summer homes down the shore. “The local infrastructure, especially the health care infrastructure, is not prepared for the influx of part-time residents. Please stay at your primary residences,” Murphy tweeted. Given that it is the off season, the shore is only equipped to handle its year round residences. Of course, people still hopped on the parkway and drove down. After all, who wouldn’t want to quarantine on the beach, even if it meant burdening these small shore towns?
The story of the Jersey Shore has been a bit of a rocky one for the past few years. And no, before you even think it, that does not include Snooki and her wildly inaccurate reality TV show. In October of 2012, the Category 3 Hurricane Sandy inflicted $70 billion in damages in United States. 346,000 New Jersey housing units were destroyed and 75% of small businesses were adversley affected. The Shore experienced its second highest flood in history, a flood that sank this boardwalk and destroyed several others. Many families had to give up their summer homes due to the costs of reconstruction and some businesses were forced to close. To this day, people are still recovering from the shock of the storm, particularly those in the Shore area. Every time I drive down a major road, there's a new house on its way or an old one getting torn down.
Following the hurricane was the “Restore the Shore” movement, a relief effort that worked with charities to help support victims. Many celebrities, fittingly including stars from the “Jersey Shore,” showed their support for the movement. The first few seasons back after the hurricane were quiet, as people were still rebuilding their houses and businesses. But the past few summers, things finally felt normal again. That beach picture above just finished building a new boardwalk and dunes last year. Small businesses are once again thriving and the Fourth of July is back to being one of the most packed days on the beach. Except now, in the midst of this pandemic, the side effects of the hurricane will be felt yet again.
Most stores and restaurants at the Jersey Shore only get three months a year to make most of their business. Several of them are closed during the off season or opened for reduced hours because essentially, the Shore is a ghost town. But if social distancing and stay-at-home orders continue into the summer, the future of these local businesses is grim. For those that did survive the economic storm brought on by the hurricane, who knows if they can survive another? I could be entirely wrong. Maybe June 1 will roll around and we will have that normal summer everyone needs right now.
While I’ve never been to a beach along the Great Lakes, I’m sure the story is no different for Michiganders. Or people out on the West Coast. Or the other side of the world. There’s not much we can do except be patient and supportive of those who are sick and those who are still working, and of course, stay at home. For the sake of our communities and local businesses who depend on these coming months, just stay at home. It’s only a matter of time before we can press play on our normal lives.