One last slice of boardwalk pizza. One final sandcastle, one last game of skee ball, one last sandy stroll back from the beach with a cart stuffed so full, you couldn’t possibly sling another chair over the handle. One final round of miniature golf with a soundtrack of seagull cries. One last soft-serve cone — rainbow jimmies on top — after a stomach-roiling roller coaster ride.
The calendar says summer lasts a few more weeks, but for most people, the summer of 2019 ended Monday, Labor Day, and it felt especially bittersweet at the New Jersey Shore.
Emily and Joe Gill of West Deptford left home shortly after 8 a.m. to stake out one of their favorite day-trip spots, the beach in Strathmere, where huge open spaces were a sign that summer was winding down.
Emily is a teacher at West Deptford High, returning to work Tuesday, and her husband planned to return to work at Johnson Matthey, a chemical company, the same day.
“I’m here to feed my spirit for the upcoming year,” said Emily Gill, 52. “I’m in denial we go back to reality tomorrow.”
Joe, 53, had just snapped a photo of the ocean — beautiful and a little rough — and sent it to their son, who replied that he couldn’t believe the sun was shining at the Shore. At home, it had just started to rain, hard.
But that felt right.
Shant Zakarian, a lawyer and Strathmere local, took a short rest on his surfboard after a morning spent riding excellent waves. He would join the parade out of town later, heading to Philadelphia for a short visit before returning home.
“This is when our season starts,” said Zakarian, 37. “The weather gets regulated and all the flies go away. I’m not looking forward to leaving today.”
A little farther down the Strathmere beach, the Bieber family set up chairs and dug an impressive hole in the sand where cousins James, Jeb, and Dylan relaxed. Their dads, brothers James and Dale Bieber of Upper Perkiomen, Montgomery County, watched over the boys, a little incredulous that Labor Day had arrived.
The older James Bieber has taken to renting a house the first week in September, letting young James and Jeb miss a few days of school to take advantage of smaller crowds and lower prices at the Shore.
“It’s busy at first, and then there’s no one,” said James Bieber. “It empties out; we have the beach to ourselves, and we can spread out, play music.”
Dale and family came down Sunday, crashed with James’ family, and planned to drive out Monday evening, though Dale wasn’t looking forward to it.
“We were looking at the taillights going over the bridge yesterday for hours — it was a steady stream,” said Dale Bieber. “There’s no way to get around the traffic going home."
Further south, in Sea Isle City, Christian Subashi, owner of LouDogs, presided over his last day of selling hot dogs for the year.
Subashi’s dad, Lou, sold dogs out of a cart parked at the entrance to the 85th Street beach beginning in 1982, and Christian took the business and moved it to a storefront at 38th Street and Pleasure Avenue after his dad died in 2010. (Subashi kept the giant white LouDogs flag his dad used to fly and pinned it to the ceiling, tattered edges and all.)
His business is solely seasonal, Memorial Day to Labor Day, and from his perch behind the counter, the summer of 2019 was a good one for Shore merchants.
“Don’t let anybody fool you, it has nothing to do with the economy, it’s all weather-based,” said Subashi, 42, who picks up off-season work as a substitute teacher. “This is one of the best weather summers we’ve ever had.”
The Cavanaugh family of New Hope spent Monday checking items off its Shore 2019 bucket list: bike rides, buying trinkets, then finally letting the kids hit the arcade, Island Breeze Casino on Sea Isle’s tiny old-time Promenade.
Connor, 7, and Matt, 5, tried their hands at Skee-Ball and basketball games, watching with wonder as machines spit out tickets when they finished.
“We’re just trying to fit everything in before we go home,” said Michael Cavanaugh, their dad, while mom Meghan pushed a stroller containing little Kellyn, 1, who watched her brothers intently.
At the entrance to Sea Isle’s 40th Street beach, a beach-tag inspector who declined to give her name (you know how people feel about beach-tag inspectors, hon) checked tags and dispensed hugs to the regulars who trooped past in a steady stream of foot traffic.
“Thanks for everything, sweetie,” one woman called to the inspector.