Memorial Day has always been the official start of summer — but not this year. Many wonder if we’ll have any summer at all, despite the recent reopening of several Jersey Shore beaches, due to continued social distancing efforts aimed at stemming the impact of the coronavirus. The Inquirer is tapping the people with the most on the line — Jersey Shore residents, business owners, and visitors — to get their opinions on what it will take to salvage the season.


The Inquirer wants to hear from you.

Shore residents, business owners, and frequent visitors: Are you changing your summer plans due to COVID-19? What are you optimistic about, and what scares you about this season? Email your story to opinion@inquirer.com. Please include your name and phone number so we can reach you.


"Summer’s going to be scary," says Caroline “Cookie” Till, the owner of Steve & Cookie’s in Margate.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
"Summer’s going to be scary," says Caroline “Cookie” Till, the owner of Steve & Cookie’s in Margate.

Cookie Till, owner of Steve & Cookie’s

Summer’s going to be scary. People will descend. On nicer weekends now, the Shore is swelling. It’s going to take a combination of people taking things seriously, like social distancing, and we businesses getting creative. And the government helping — you hate to see people go out of business if they can’t adapt right now. We’re lucky that we were able to, but some businesses can’t. So at least to help them hold on until things normalize a bit.

“My main fear is that people will just go back to the status quo.”

Cookie Till

Everyone has social anxiety right now. So I hope everyone remembers to be kinder to one another. We ask people who are visiting to enjoy the nice weather, support the businesses that are open, but have patience. At both our coffee shop, and take-out at our restaurant, it gets really busy. To handle this, we have a new point-of-sale system and plan for crowds, but it still requires people’s attention and patience.

I feel horrible for Atlantic City. It’s so close to my heart since I grew up there. It was starting to come back [from this], and then the casinos had to close. The food bank can’t keep up with the demand. My heart breaks for those people. Nobody should be hungry, and people in Atlantic City — all over the country — are.

Within all this I’m still very optimistic. My main fear is that people will just go back to the status quo [from before the pandemic]. And that may be the worst thing we could do. If we don’t take these warning signs seriously, Mother Nature may have other plans for us.​

Jeffrey Payne, beverage server, Caesars Atlantic City Hotel & Casino

I’ve been in the casino industry for 34 years, 30 of them at Caesars. My last day of work was March 15. Being laid off has taken a toll. Some of my coworkers are struggling, we’re having food drives for them, and we’re all trying to figure out what this new world is going to be.

“The casino industry in general should just scrub this summer as a loss.”

Jeffrey Payne

My personal opinion is, the casino industry should not rush to reopen. They need to put measures in place to make the employees and the customers feel safe. If the casinos don’t do it right, it could be horrible for the industry and for Atlantic City. The industry is going to be judged, and they can’t get it wrong. They should do a nice Labor Day rollout, and open up on a small scale — just gaming at first — and see what the draw is.

What drives me crazy is the complacency of people. We could have a beautiful summer, with the beaches and the boardwalks crowded, but that doesn’t mean the virus is going to be gone. Cases are going to pop up, and we might have a situation we can’t control or contain.

We’ve been through so many things, and we‘ve always come back. We’re a resilient community. What gives me optimism is the Jersey Shore [itself]. Such a beautiful area, a nice family area, with so much to do. I hope that people will do the right thing and that we won’t get into a situation where that great Jersey Shore goes away.

North Wildwood Beach Patrol captain Bill Ciavarelli is preparing for a different kind of summer at the Shore this year. "We are going to practice some new techniques to keep us and beach patrons safe," he says.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
North Wildwood Beach Patrol captain Bill Ciavarelli is preparing for a different kind of summer at the Shore this year. "We are going to practice some new techniques to keep us and beach patrons safe," he says.

Bill Ciavarelli, captain of the North Wildwood Beach Patrol

I’ve been a lifeguard for 31 years. People are really looking forward to coming down here this year, and we want them to enjoy it. We want them to come.

But there are going to be guidelines. There will be a continual practice of social distancing — small gatherings of people staying six feet apart. We’re not going to have them practically sitting on top of each other on the beach.

Lifeguards are going to do what we’ve always done. But we’ve changed some of our procedures. Normally we would have two lifeguards on every chair, and now there will be one. Lifeguards also will be walking, or out on a paddleboat or a rowboat. We will have masks available. We will be disinfecting the chairs and the gear every time we use them.

“There’s new beach etiquette. That’s the bottom line.”

Bill Ciavarelli

We are going to practice some new techniques to keep us and beach patrons safe. Before, if someone [needed assistance], we may have six lifeguards respond. Now, we may have a smaller response team.

People have to understand that when you come to the beach now, you have to be aware of the social distancing, and the sanitizing, for yourself and for others. It’s about people policing this themselves, more than the lifeguards or anyone else doing it. I think as a society, most of us have been doing a good job with that. So we can’t lose our focus. We can’t let our guards down.

Lifeguards don’t need anyone going rogue on us. We don’t need any renegades. But I am optimistic. I think we are going to be able to handle this because we’re all in this together. We’re going to be all right.

Beth Holtzman, Ventnor mayor

I’ve lived in Ventnor for 48 years and I was recently reelected to a second term as mayor. When I think of how this summer can be an overall success, I think of businesses opening up again, including the small retail shops. We need to let them govern themselves and run their businesses.

“I am concerned about the lack of respect for law enforcement.”

Beth Holtzman

People need to take individual responsibility and govern themselves too. If you’re on the beach, and it’s crowded, just get up and move! Take responsibility for your own health! At this point all of us have gotten enough information, and everybody should be well enough educated about the risks of doing and not doing.

I am concerned about the lack of respect for law enforcement. So if law enforcement has to intercede because there are too many people at a party, people can be defiant. But our first responders keep our residents safe.

I think we’re going to have a very good summer. It will definitely be a different summer. But Ventnor is unique. It still has that small community feeling. And the people who live here are why this summer will be successful.

As owner of the Surf Mall on the Boardwalk in Ocean City, Wes Kazmarck, who is also president of the Boardwalk Merchants Association, says, “If you told me in January I would be selling masks on my online site I would have said, ‘for what?’”
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
As owner of the Surf Mall on the Boardwalk in Ocean City, Wes Kazmarck, who is also president of the Boardwalk Merchants Association, says, “If you told me in January I would be selling masks on my online site I would have said, ‘for what?’”

Wes Kazmarck, owner of the Surf Mall in Ocean City

I’ve been working on the boardwalk since I was 13. Like a lot of merchants in town, I grew up here. I bought my own store in 2002, and I also have a store in Sea Isle.

This certainly won’t be a business-as-usual summer, but if we get open, and the weather cooperates, we should be able to pay our bills. The thought is that this summer, people will want to stay closer to home, within driving distance.

“If you told me in January I would be selling masks on my online site I would have said, ‘for what?’”

Wes Kazmarck

We can certainly expect there will be occupancy restrictions in stores. We will be installing sneeze guards and there will be sanitizers at all the registers. There will be temperature checks for employees, and the [sales] staff will be wearing masks. We will be expecting and hoping our customers will be wearing masks, too.

I think that the majority of the public is aware of what’s at stake. People worry about other people not taking the coronavirus seriously, but I think most people will. I do have a concern that people who have been out of work for so long might be tight on money to spend.

I am cautiously optimistic because I think people want to get back to being normal. They want to go outside, which is one of the safer things to do. The Shore is an outside-driven economy, and Ocean City is a traditional town of mom-and-pop businesses. People want their traditions back.

Benjamin Haney, Sea Isle second home owner

Eight people plus a dog usually go down to our home in Sea Isle — including my sisters-in-law, one with her husband and kids, and my mother-in-law. My husband and I are usually based there mid-July until the end of summer, commuting back and forth to the city, and there every weekend from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

“People feel like they drive over the bridge and when they hit the Shore...nothing bad can happen. That’s great, but I don’t know if the virus feels that way.”

Benjamin Haney

We were down last weekend. Now we’re debating. We’re probably going to do more weekends in Philly this summer and toying with trips we wouldn’t normally otherwise, like renting an RV if it’s safe to drive out to national parks we haven’t seen. And we’re thinking about maybe coming down the Shore during the week when it’s less crowded.

We don’t know how busy and safe the Shore will be. It’s a giant wild card if the opening up will turn out to be good or bad. I have concern with folks going down the Shore constantly merging their worlds for the weekend, while coming back and forth from the city. It kind of seems anti the social distancing rules we’ve been told for the last 10 weeks.

The beach is essential if summer is going to work, to provide safe outdoor spots. But I’m not sure if people are social distancing. Last weekend on the beach, at least, people were. Other parts of the Shore saw tons of crowds that felt more like Memorial Day weekend – no one in masks. People feel as if they drive over the bridge and when they hit the Shore, there’s escape, that vibe of once you’re there nothing bad can happen. That’s great, but I don’t know if the virus feels that way.

I’m a bit fearful we’ll all go down, pretend nothing’s going on, and risk all the good we’ve done [to fight the virus] so far. That was in the back of my mind last weekend, and will probably be in the back of my mind every time I go — are we doing the right thing?​

Rich Helfant, executive director of the Save Lucy Committee poses by the National Historic Landmark elephant. "We’re reducing the occupancy inside the elephant and the gift shop by half, from 50 to 25," he says about plans to keep the tourist attraction open this summer.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Rich Helfant, executive director of the Save Lucy Committee poses by the National Historic Landmark elephant. "We’re reducing the occupancy inside the elephant and the gift shop by half, from 50 to 25," he says about plans to keep the tourist attraction open this summer.

Richard Helfant, executive director of Lucy the Elephant

We want to see an intelligent reopening of the state, the region, and the country. We don’t want to have a second outbreak to come along, and the government have to shut everything down again. And of course, the weather will be crucial. We want sunny days, but we also want some rainy days so people who can’t visit the beach will want to visit Lucy. We have 130,000 visitors a year, and most of them come in the summer.

“What will it take to salvage the season and have a successful summer? There isn’t a simple answer.”

Richard Helfant

We’re being proactive. It’s common sense. We’re reducing the occupancy inside the elephant and the gift shop by half, from 50 to 25. We’re contracting with professionals to clean the air-conditioning ducts and the carpets. We’ll have face masks and disposable gloves. There will be sneeze guards in the gift shop. We’ll have noncontact temperature checks for staff and volunteers.

My hope is the vast majority of people who come to the Shore this summer are going to be smart and police themselves. A lot of people are scared, and I think the majority realize the severity of it. I had the virus, and I’m not sensationalizing, but for two nights, I thought I was going to die. It took two weeks to feel better. This is no joke.

I don’t think 2020 will be a banner year, but I believe we New Jerseyans and Americans are strong. We’ve faced obstacles before. And I do believe we’ll come out stronger and better once this is behind us.

Frank Shoemaker, broker of record at Berger Realty

We’re still kind of continuing as we would have any normal summer with the exception of making some, I think, minor changes, in the business process. We’ll be doing different things for social distancing once rental check-ins start. We’re keeping tenants and owners informed of what’s happening. I don’t think the changes that we’re doing are any different than what everybody else is doing — limiting the number of people in the buildings, having our agents wear face masks or face shields, providing hand-sanitizing stations.

“People wanted to get out months ago. And I’d guess they are going to want to stay closer to home.”

Frank Shoemaker

In terms of reduced interest [in coming down the Shore], there’s been a little bit of that. But I think that once summer comes and warmer weather hits, people are going to want to get out of the house. People wanted to get out months ago. And I’d guess they are going to want to stay closer to home rather than fly or go on a cruise. Eventually we have to get back to normalcy. We’ve been provided the basic guidelines as to what we need to do. It all goes back to everybody doing their part, washing their hands, not touching their face, keeping things clean.

Anthony Zuccarello, son-in-law of founder Sam Spera, slices pies at Sam's Pizza Palace, on the boardwalk in Wildwood. "This is my 51st season. This one is unprecedented," he says of 2020.
VERNON OGRODNEK
Anthony Zuccarello, son-in-law of founder Sam Spera, slices pies at Sam's Pizza Palace, on the boardwalk in Wildwood. "This is my 51st season. This one is unprecedented," he says of 2020.

Anthony Zuccarello, owner of Sam’s Pizza Palace

Sam’s has been in business since 1957, and I’ve been here since 1969. This is my 51st season. This one is unprecedented.

Everything right now is take-out, and our staff is cut in half. If we had 40, now we have 20. Everybody working inside the building wears masks. We have gloves, we have hand sanitizer, we wipe the counter down constantly with the wipes. We’re trying to keep everything clean.

“Everybody just wants to get out to see sunshine and see people.”

Anthony Zuccarello

This past weekend with the weather so nice there were a lot of people in town. I heard a lot of people saying they just wanted to get out of the house. Being able to come down to the Shore and run on the boardwalk and the beach is good for the little ones. It’s good for everybody.

Five years ago, “social distancing” wasn’t in our vocabulary. Now it’s everywhere you go. They’re doing it here. On the boardwalk you see people spread out. When they come up to the window, the line looks like it’s long, because people aren’t so close together. Normally, if we had 10 people waiting for pies, they all would be right in front of the window. Now, the line is 60 feet long.

Once this is lifted, I still believe people are going to flock down here. People don’t want to go on planes or cruises. But they’re a car drive away from the Jersey Shore, and hopefully the Jersey Shore will stay busy.

Curtis Bashaw, founder and managing partner of the Congress Hall Hotel

My family started coming here in the early ‘60s. I got my first job at the Shore in ‘75 and it’s been 31 years now that I’ve owned and operated hotel properties here. This summer, we need to be respectful of having been through quarantine. We need to have a gentle ramp up to the busier part of the season.

“Our guests understand things will be a little bit different this summer.”

Curtis Bashaw

We want to give everyone the space they need to relax and breathe easy. So we have to manage our capacity. We’re upgrading the reservation software, doubling our concierge team, and reopening the windows of our public spaces to allow the breezes to blow freely. We’ve just ordered 50 old-fashioned wooden screens for those great 12-foot windows in Congress Hall.

Will people be respectful of the protocols? My experience thus far is that people will be respectful. People don’t want to lose the privileges that were taken away for two months. You don’t know what you miss until it’s gone. I think most people are going to be very well-behaved.

As we learn to live with this virus, I hope we [can] be responsible for ourselves and our community. It’s important to let businesspeople do what they do well, which is innovate and manage through curveball situations. We’ve been through a lot and there’s more to get through. But I think we’re going to have a very special season.

Kimberly and Kelsey Jackson run Kelsey & Kim's Southern Cafe in Atlantic City. "What worries me financially is, if we’re not allowed to get the PPP loan, I think that that’s going to put us in a very bad situation," Kim says.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Kimberly and Kelsey Jackson run Kelsey & Kim's Southern Cafe in Atlantic City. "What worries me financially is, if we’re not allowed to get the PPP loan, I think that that’s going to put us in a very bad situation," Kim says.

Kimberly Jackson, co-owner, Kelsey & Kim’s Southern Café, Atlantic City

The beaches and casinos have to be open to bring tourists to town, even at limited capacity — opening them and maintaining social distance. We’ve started to see more flow into the city because of the beaches being open. Next, if we could get the shops back open at the walk, that would be great.

“I’m optimistic we’ll make it through the summer successfully, but what’s going to happen come November, December?”

Kimberly Jackson

But I do believe we have to practice social distancing. And we definitely shouldn’t just open up at full capacity right away. Opening everything back up at once might put us backwards. I’m ready to open whenever [the people in charge] tell me I can.

What worries me financially is, if we’re not allowed to get the PPP loan, I think that that’s going to put us in a very bad situation. And then the return of the pandemic. It may not end here. I’m optimistic we’ll make it through the summer successfully, but what’s going to happen come November, December?

What I do know is that if it does come back, at least we’ll be better prepared. We’ll already have the take-out [system] in place and know what to do. So that alleviates some of the stress. But we still don’t want to go through this again.

Mike Baratta, yearly Shore house renter

My grandfather owned a duplex on the south end of Ocean City, near 53rd and Asbury, and we would always go to the 54th Street beach. It was a big family reunion, with all the boy and girl cousins, and people coming in from everywhere. We’ve been doing this for nearly 40 years, and this year we have three houses reserved on that block at the end of July.

“Overall it has the potential to still be a salvageable summer."

Mike Baratta

A lot of people in my family work in health care, and we do take [the pandemic] very seriously. It’s not like we’re going to throw caution to the winds. We have family members in North Carolina and Georgia who are planning to come, but it will depend on how safe it is for people to fly. Right now the plan is to move forward, as normal.

I think everybody needs a little bit of a break this year, and for me, it will be a successful summer if we are able to go to the beach, walk on the beach with our family, and make new memories. A lot will depend on how the next month or so goes. I can’t for the life of me see how they are going to control keeping people six feet apart at all times. There isn’t going to be a cop at every entrance to the beach. So a lot of the responsibility will lie with the beach-goer.

Everybody has to work together to make it safe and enjoyable for everybody. It will be nice to see the community coming together again.


Top photo: Surfers walk along the shore at Ventnor City Beach. (Tyger Williams / Staff Photographer)