Sticker shock at the Shore: ‘There’s nothing that didn’t go up.’

OCEAN CITY, N.J. — The price hikes were traveling up the boardwalk the other day, as visitors tallied the rising cost of pizza, not to mention the small cotton-candy-flavored Polish Water Ice gelato, adding just a little insult to the injury of yet another chilly day in May.

“The whole pie was like $25,” said Jarrett Gibbs of Long Island, explaining why his group of Penn State friends just bought a couple of slices from Manco & Manco’s. (It’s actually $24.15 there.)

Gibbs carried a modest blue-colored water-ice gelato, $6.50, as a first course. The cost for gas for a drive down from New York? A sore subject these days at about $65.

But hey, isn’t the Shore supposed to be a bit overpriced anyway? Some of those interviewed recently in Ocean City said they already expected to pay a bit more for shopping trips down the Shore. What’s left of the Airbnb inventory for a family of four is currently averaging $714 a night in Ocean City.

That kind of thinking may spare Shore shop owners from too much inflation outrage by the sea. Last year, their issue was supply chain (and staff). Would there be any boogie boards in stock, or would they be stuck in shipping containers?

This year, the big concern is costs, says Wes Kazmarck who owns the Surf Mall in Ocean City and another store in Sea Isle and is head of the Ocean City Boardwalk Merchants. (And staff.)

Will people buy a $60 beach chair? That’s what Kazmarck says he would have to charge, since it’s costing him $30 a chair this year.

“There’s nothing that didn’t go up,” Kazmarck said.

Dairy costs more, and so does sugar. That means fudge is up. Not to mention the other Shore staple: real estate. Cooking oil hikes could affect everything from fried avocado ($7) to chicken tenders ($10 a cup) to fries ($6 for a 16-ounce cup). The privately owed Margate bridge toll is up from $2.00 to $2.25. And pickleball! A basic summer membership in Stone Harbor is $250 this year, up from $90.

Trash services have skyrocketed, leaving one town, North Wildwood, cutting ties with a private company they felt had tried to strong-arm the city into paying higher rates. Mayor Patrick Rosenello said the company, owned by a hedge fund, said if the city didn’t agree to immediate rate hikes, “Things were going to get ugly. He would leave trash in the streets.”

North Wildwood switched vendors. “Listen: It’s costing us more than our publicly bid contract, but less than what the contractor was demanding,” Rosenello said. “We’re really nervous about diesel fuel increase. Our beach replenishment, that’s a heavy use of fuel. We’ve held off on going out to bid on a couple other contracts, because we know prices are so high. We’re delaying road reconstructions until the fall.”

And could that cool Shashibo shape-shifter 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 Air Circus people were willing to bargain one down to $20 cash (thank you!). So you never know. At least, somewhere a price went down.

How big was summer of 2021?

The Shore is coming off a huge season in 2021, propelled by people who were flexible from remote schooling and remote working, others who had some spare cash from government pandemic money, and the lack of other travel options. People came down the Shore in droves.

According to the Lloyd Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality & Tourism, 48.2 million visitors came to the Jersey Shore in 2021, a 21% increase from 2020. They spent $20.8 billion, a 28.9% increase from 2020.

So what’s a few more dollars for a whole pie?

With gas prices so high, Cape May County has brought back their old marketing campaign from 2009: “A tank of gas away.” (Last year, it was the pandemic inspired “Exciting places, open spaces.”)

“We’ve dusted that one off,” said Diane Wieland, director of tourism for Cape May County, at the recent Shorecast event held at Stockton University. “Every dollar they spend is going to impact discretionary spending. They’ll change their budget when they get here. You have to eat, but you don’t have to have three meals a day. You don’t have to go out to expensive dinners.”

Oliver Cook, an economist with Stockton, predicted another robust summer, but probably not exceeding 2021′s performance. “I think it may not be as robust as last summer,” Cook said. “There were some very unique characteristics: so much pent-up savings, and pent-up demand. Lots of fiscal stimulus juicing household balance sheets.”

With 2022′s inflation, he said, “This does start to become a question for many families.”

A recent report by the New Jersey Realtors found that the median sale price in March for a house in Atlantic County was $347,500, up 22.8% from the year before. In Ocean County, the median sale price was $476,000, up 14.7% from 2021. And in Cape May County, the median sale price was $481,500, up 18.9%.

French fry jobs for $21.50 an hour

The staffing shortages of last summer have pushed up wages with seasonal boardwalk jobs offering upward of $15 and $16 an hour. At the Adventure Golf in Ocean City, managers were being recruited for as much as $21.50 an hour.

But finding employees a place they can afford to live is another consequence of the escalating prices.

Some are priced out altogether

With so many new owners, and sale prices high, Avalon Realtor Ann Delaney says that rental prices have also risen, sometimes by thousands of dollars per week, and even longtime renters are finding themselves priced out of places they’ve gone to for years.

But the newer buyers have put their homes out for rent, so there is still inventory, despite a rush to book up the summer last fall.

She thinks Shore real estate prices have probably peaked for now.

“We had pretty aggressive rate increases,” she said. “That was tough. It priced some people out.”

Atlantic City is seeing the effects of rising prices at the Shore, with investors, second-home owners, and Airbnb hosts buying up and renovating homes.

“There’s no inventory,” said Atlantic City Realtor Kim Turner-McDuffie, who said she closed on a house recently in the Gardner’s Basin area near the inlet for $255,000, in an area where similar homes were selling for $150,000 six months ago.

“In Gardner’s Basin, not one home is for sale right now,” she said. “They all run to it if one comes up for sale. They’re from out of state, turning them into Airbnbs.”

As for Kazmarck, he’s debating whether to even pay $30 wholesale to bring in beach chairs and watch them not sell for $60. Instead, he’s stocking more beach towels for people to lounge on, old school.

“I bought a lot of towels this year thinking people were going to say, ‘I’ll just take a towel,’ ” he said. “They went from $12.99 to $14.99. Or from $14.99 to $19.99.”

This content was originally published here.

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