By Lauren Wanko
At a glance it looks like a typical summer day in Cape May — sun-worshipers lounge on the beach, shoppers crowd Washington Street Mall and vacationers step into a horse drawn carriage and step back in time. Still it’s anything but typical for Elaine’s Victorian Inn owner Shirley Phinney. Business at the bed and breakfast is slumping this summer. She thinks vacationers are convinced South Jersey shore towns were hit hard by the storm.
“I’ve been in business here in Cape May for just about 30 years and my motto was always, it didn’t matter the weather, it didn’t matter what was going on — July and August always came. This year there was no July and who knows if August will come. I’ve never seen a summer like this,” Phinney said.
Phinney hasn’t had any issues renting out her 10 guest rooms, but every other aspect of the B and B has lagged behind from the restaurant to the pub to the dinner theater. Nearby, a vacancy sign hangs in front of the Dormer House.
“It’s slower definitely. Last year was a very good year. This year we do have some openings, which we usually never do this time of year,” said Dormer House owner Dennis Doherty.
Immediately after Sandy hit, the Cape May County Department of Tourism launched a series of ads to remind vacationers businesses are open and not impacted by the storm. And they just kicked off a new marketing strategy to lure summer tourists back this fall.
“Our biggest issue right now is there’s still a perception issue and that the economy, we are still reeling from this weak economy. To us it was the double whammy,” Cape May County Tourism Director Diane Wieland said.
Stockton Inns and Golf owner Brian Groetsch expected folks to flock to South Jersey after Sandy devastated shore communities farther north.
“It just never materialized. The early summer, late spring time, when a lot of the reservations for the season are made, the phones just stopped ringing, it just went dead,” Groetsch said.
Cape May Carriage Company anticipated a similar uptick in sales this summer. Instead, business is down about 40 percent.
“We actually kind of expected it to be a lot busier just because of a lot of the Jersey Shore wasn’t really 100 percent yet,” said Cape May Carriage Company owner Chantel Semanchik.
This season’s wet weather hasn’t helped either. At the Village Bicycle Shop in Cape May, staffers say business is down about 30 percent this season and right now they’re at the mercy of Mother Nature.
“As everybody knows in the beginning of the summer, those first three weeks it was like 97/98 degrees. We just sat here and then it chills out a little bit and it becomes nice and people want to ride bikes,” Village Bicycle Shop employee Thomas Brojakowski said.
Still there is a sector of the industry on an upswing — summer rentals.
Broker and owner of Wilsey Realty Gail Wilsey Moorison said, “Our summer rental revenue if you were to compare it to last year over the same period, we’re up 12 percent.”
Along the shore town’s famous Washington Street Mall, store owner Joanne Klineburger isn’t seeing a drop in business this season.
“I would say we’re probably about even,” said Klineburger, who owns Great White Shark.
Cape May County Tourism officials say the majority of their visitors come in August. With about five weeks left of the summer, that’s something business owners are counting on.