ATLANTIC CITY — Out on the beach at Jackson Avenue, where Atlantic City becomes Ventnor, there’s always been a seamless, mostly invisible border, but not anymore. Now, there’s a fence and a sign turning people away.
“Ventnor beaches and Boardwalk Closed until further notice. ... Fines will be enforced," reads the sign attached with railroad ties to the dune fencing running up from the high tide line.
“People had to know that if they were caught, it was something that was going to hit them in the pocket,” Ventnor Police Chief Doug Biagi said. “We’re ready to back it up.”
So far, Ventnor police haven’t had to haul away any defiant Boardwalk or beach users. Ventnor has instituted walking beats, ATVs, and the occasional patrol car with flashing lights to get their message across. People have listened, though some want to debate with the officers, Biagi said.
It seemed to work Sunday, as a day filled with morning and early-afternoon sunshine saw a steady stream of people, and many masks, heading up Atlantic Avenue for Atlantic City’s Boardwalk and beaches, which remained open to cyclists, pedestrians, anglers and surfers. Ventnor’s Boardwalk was empty.
“Don’t walk on that side of the Boardwalk, the politicians will get you!” advised a masked bike rider coming off the Boardwalk at Jackson, referring to the Ventnor side. A few minutes later, a threesome with Bloody Marys in red Solo cups, celery stalks and all, walked up the ramp and turned toward Atlantic City.
Nearby, in Atlantic City, a maintenance crew from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority worked their way down the Boardwalk spraying benches with disinfectant. Which seems to be a routine they might want to keep up whenever these strange coronavirus days mercifully will have faded into just another exceptionally weird chapter in the life of Atlantic City and the Jersey Shore.
Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. said he had no current plans to close off his city’s beaches or its iconic Boardwalk, which after the first mile or so out of Ventnor widens considerably.
He said the city has had no issues regarding large crowds along the Boardwalk, where the only businesses that remain open are a medical marijuana dispensary, the Botanist, at South Carolina Avenue, and a few food and convenience shops. Elsewhere in town, the Little Water Distillery on Baltic Avenue was producing sanitizer along with its gin, rum and whiskey.
The city did have to crack down on Taboo, a 24/7 sex shop on Atlantic Avenue offering “lingerie, peep shows and adult toys,” Small said, after the shop tried to remain open after Gov. Phil Murphy ordered all nonessential retail closed. Taboo was gated closed on Sunday, with a handwritten note in the window apologizing for having to shut down due to the “heath crisis.”
And Small said he would be consulting with other city officials Sunday as to how to respond to Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order giving municipalities the right to direct hotels and motels catering to tourists or transient guests to close “for the duration of this emergency.” Several Shore towns, including Ventnor, have prohibited short-term rentals.
“Social distancing does not work by relocating to the Shore,” Murphy stated.
Small said that there had been an influx of out-of-staters into A.C., as elsewhere at the Shore, and that he would be making a decision about the motels in the near future. The city’s Convention Center, meanwhile, was being converted into a 250-bed hospital.
In North Wildwood, Mayor Patrick Rosenello said there had been no issues with the town’s still-open Boardwalk and beaches and there had been “zero police action” required to crack down on any gatherings or parties. It seems North Wildwood, which definitely knows how to party, also knows how not to.
He said officials did have some concerns about Easter, a traditionally busy weekend. But he said in his town’s off-season mode, “there’s some social distancing built in.”
He expected towns may act regarding limiting motel reservations, but he considered the issue mostly moot, at least for April. As he said, most if not all reservations have been canceled “and no one’s looking for new ones.”
Meanwhile, the fallout from local and state officials telling second-home owners they should stay in their primary homes continued to be felt in an increasingly bitter debate. In Ocean City, where beaches and the Boardwalk are also closed, Jay Prettyman, the police chief, posted a personal plea saying “I have never experienced anything of this magnitude. I need everyone to listen to the specifics listed in the most recent New Jersey Governor’s Executive Order and STAY HOME!!!”
On Facebook and elsewhere, second-home owners expressed deep resentment that they have been made to feel unwelcome in the Shore towns where they have sunk big bucks into houses and tax bases.
“No one’s taking your precious second world resources or stopping your firefighters from having to grab a cat out of a tree!” went one typical rant, quoted in an email with a subject line: Margate Civil War 2020. "Relax Margate you’ll have plenty of coffee left at your Wawa. How about this summer instead of us supporting all of the local businesses ... maybe before we come [to] “OUR OWN HOMES” we’ll just shop local in our neighborhoods ... I wish you clowns luck this summer [.] Things changed now the moment that stance was taken.”