During the chilly spring of 2020, with coronavirus keeping New Jersey on a virtual lockdown, things were not looking up for the Shore this summer. But fortunes, at least for one municipality, have turned positive.
“What a weekend!” said Lavallette Mayor Walter LaCicero at a borough council meeting Monday night. “I don’t remember seeing this many people around in quite a few years. Traffic was backed up all the way through town into Ortley [Beach].”
Councilman Michael Stogdill said by the end of June – before the monstrous crowds arrived for the Independence Day holiday – the borough had doubled the number of daily beach badges sold over the same period in 2019. Lavallette had sold 1,800 badges compared to 900 last year. Likewise, revenue was up across the board.
Weekly badge sales had also practically doubled, Stogdill said, and though the borough did not have a running total of seasonal badges available, they were also deemed to be up. By the end of the July 4 weekend, Lavallette was approaching the revenue generated for the entire 2019 season. Through July 5, 2020, Lavallette has generated $904,647 in beach badge revenue. Last year, through Labor Day weekend, the borough generated $963,680.
“It’s just incredible,” the mayor said.
Even the bay beach was more crowded than it has been in years, according to officials.
“The last two, three, four years it’s been a few families, but there had to be 10 or 12 families down there,” said Stogdill, singling out the Washington Avenue bay beach alone.
There are a few explanations for the borough’s good fortunes. Some believe the coronavirus pandemic has actually brought more people to the Jersey Shore since trips to traditional summer destinations like Europe, the Caribbean or Disney World are being skipped.
“A lot of people aren’t traveling – they’re staying local,” said Council President Anita Zalom.
Another explanation could be an influx of visitors who would otherwise hit the beach at Island Beach State Park, which is reducing its capacity by 50 percent on a daily basis under state mandate. When the park closes its gates, beachgoers look for a local alternative, and Lavallette is often the most affordable option.
“We have free parking, which they don’t have in the towns in between,” said Councilwoman Joanne Filippone.
Despite the crowds, Lavallette utilized a plan developed before the season to help maintain social distancing between parties on the sand – namely, spacing out lifeguard stands and deploying new stands as crowds grow.
“That spread it out and we didn’t have to close any streets,” Stogdill said. “People are in their own groups, they’re keeping with their own groups, and extra stands allow everyone to spread out.”
With an excellent weather pattern forecast to remain in place, borough officials are keeping their hopes up that the visitors continue to flock to town.
“We didn’t know where it was going to go, and we’re glad it’s falling on this side of the fence,” LaCicero said.