VIRGINIA BEACH -- The future of the annual Labor Day celebration for black college students is in doubt because of its high cost to this resort city and low profits for local businesses.

While Virginia Beach survived Laborfest '90 without the violence of last year, the weekend cost the city nearly $2 million for extra security and other expenses.

And while there was no shattered glass from looted stores to sweep off the streets Tuesday morning, many local business owners still consider the weekend a near disaster because of their meager sales.

Despite the efforts of hundreds of volunteers and city workers, racial tension remained -- meaning violence still could threaten next year's Laborfest and prompt another wave of negative national publicity for Virginia Beach.

Mayor Meyera Oberndorf called the weekend a success but has stopped short of pledging city support for a Laborfest '91. This was the first year the city took an active role in planning the event. Through the 1980s, it was a spontaneous annual celebration called Greekfest.

"With budget constraints, the city may have to return to more normal functions," said Oberndorf, noting that the city will review this year's event before making a decision about next year.

"In my estimation, the city cannot afford to spend the kind of money or the amount of manpower and time spent on this year," City Council member Robert E. Fentress said yesterday.

"It just completely gobbled up the entire year. We've got other problems to worry about."

Attendance was about 30,000, down from 100,000 last year, and fewer people meant less money spent in Virginia Beach hotels, restaurants and T-shirt shops.

Many of the traditional Labor Day visitors stayed away from the beach, and were not replaced by crowds of students. Some of those students went instead to alternative events organized in Washington, Baltimore and Atlanta.

Many of the students who were present said they decided not to spend their money with Virginia Beach merchants as a protest of their treatment last year.

"Where do we go from here? That's the question," said Linwood Branch, president of the city's hotel and motel association. "This year represented a social and human experiment, but there is also the business element . . . . Labor Day is something a lot of businesses depend on to survive."

A look back at the weekend suggests why some city officials and business owners are questioning the future of Laborfest:

Although Labor Day weekend traditionally has been one of the three busiest at the beach (Memorial Day and the Fourth of July are the other two), Laborfest this year attracted even fewer people than the 50,000 who stay overnight on a typical summer weekend.

Hotel occupancy stood at about 50 percent of last year, according to Branch.

Retail sales were about 40 percent of last year's.

"Restaurants did even worse," Branch said. "We lost 50 to 75 percent of our business for what has been one of the best weekends of the summer . . . . Was {Laborfest '90} a moneymaker? No."

Joseph Hawa, president of the retail merchants association, asked: "How many years can we afford to lose 60 percent of our business?"

The business slowdown was visible all up and down the beach last weekend. Many shops along the oceanfront went for long stretches with no customers.

At 3 p.m. Saturday, a clerk working in a T-shirt shop could not hide her look of boredom. "I've only sold about $12 worth of merchandise in the last four hours," said the Shirt Tales clerk.

Many of the young blacks who gathered in the city seemed to enjoy themselves, and others reluctantly accepted the city's heavily regimented crowd control arrangements, including traffic checkpoints and the use of roadblocks to secure downtown streets.

As 2 a.m. approached on Monday, Kareem Muhammad, a junior at North Carolina A&T University, leaned against a street sign on Atlantic Avenue, swaying with music that boomed from a nearby car.

"They are strict," he said. "But what can you expect when they get windows broken last year?" More than 100 stores were looted, resulting in $1.4 million in damage a year ago.

Other young blacks were not so forgiving. Some suggested they had not forgotten what they saw as police brutality and indifference on the part of city government and merchants last year.

"I'm not looking to spend any money in Virginia Beach," said Lorretta Jamison, a junior at George Mason University, before the start of a Saturday night concert at Red Wing Park. "I'm looking to send a message in my own little way."

As black students seem to be losing interest in Labor Day weekends at Virginia Beach, local officials said they are leaning toward an event that would not be targeted at any one group.

"Why exclude 90 percent of your market for 10 percent of the market which may boycott you?" Branch asked. "From the mood of the crowd, I'm not sure how many of the {young blacks} would return."