“It’s become very apparent that we have a lot of new people coming in who have never been to Rehoboth before,” Ragan said. “Nobody wants to profit from anyone’s misfortune, but it looks like it’s going to be an awesome year.”
Blue Moon’s new customers are tourists who typically vacation along the Jersey shore, where many beaches are still recovering from the $37 billion in damage caused by Hurricane Sandy’s pummeling in October. Seven months later, towns up and down the Mid-Atlantic are bracing for the storm’s next impact — a tidal shift in summer tourism that has New Jersey beaches dreading the ebb and resorts from Delaware to the Outer Banks eager for the flow.
Being careful not to gloat over another beach town’s misfortune, tourism officials and business owners are confident that Rehoboth Beach; Bethany Beach, Del.; and other unscathed spots will enjoy a significant influx of tourists who would normally be pointing their minivans toward New Jersey’s Manasquan, Mantoloking and Avalon.
“What’s really different this year is the number of guests calling from New York and New Jersey,” said T.J. Redefer, owner of Bethany Bay Realty, an agency specializing in smaller, upscale rental properties. “These are people I’ve never talked to before.”
The newcomers are full of questions, Redefer said, from which local beach towns are better for families to where the boardwalks are. Even, how do we get there?
“They want to know if it’s better to take the [Cape May-Lewes] ferry or drive around,” he said. (Answer: The ferry can be faster, but only if you time it just right.)
There is a lot of money riding on the choices these sun-and-sand refugees make. Almost a billion dollars in beach business could be displaced from normally jammed beaches in the Garden State this summer, according to a Rutgers University analysis, particularly in the hardest-hit points north of Atlantic City.
Although towns have rushed to replace the boardwalks and roller coasters Sandy swept to sea, many neighborhoods are still ringing with hammering and power saws as carpenters swarm over thousands of damaged beach houses.
“There just isn’t going to be the stock of rental inventory ready,” said Joseph Seneca, an economist at Rutgers’s Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. “There has been a tremendous amount of work done, but in some places, they are still in the early stages of rebuilding.”
Jersey isn’t giving up its beach denizens without a fight. At least three tourism campaigns are promoting the shore, including a $25 million “Stronger Than the Storm” promotion funded with federal relief money. They tout the many beaches south of Atlantic City, which were largely untouched by Sandy, and the pockets of recovery throughout the impact zone. This month, Gov. Chris Christie (R) appeared with Britain’s Prince Harry to inspect boardwalk repairs in Seaside Heights.