Summer Down the Shore Brings Opportunities, Challenges


May 28 marked the end of many COVID-19 restrictions in New Jersey, and June 20 marked the first day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere.

With hotter days here and more freedom to travel and explore than most people have seen in 18 months, folks are flocking to the shores of Jewish-heavy Longport, Margate and Ventnor, as well as the other beach towns. And, for the most part, things are back to normal — or at least, a new normal.

“Here at the shore, it’s full steam ahead,” said Jacki Menaker, cantor and Reform spiritual leader at Shirat Hayam Synagogue in Ventnor.  

She said the synagogue has received calls recently from those visiting for a few weeks or for the summer, asking if they are able to attend services.

“The door’s wide open,” Menaker said.

The Milton & Betty Katz Jewish Community Center in Margate began its Camp By the Sea program near full capacity on June 21, its fitness center is open at 100% capacity and they are partnering with Star Fitclub to rebuild programming opportunities, according to Genia Bittner, Katz JCC director of marketing and special events.

For restaurants at the shore, dining is beginning to look similar to how it has in summers before 2020.

“Older women who are in card groups get together, and they can finally sit down and eat a sandwich with each other without worrying about getting sick,” said Buddy Della Fave, owner of Margate hangout spot Downbeach Deli.

At Jewish-owned Water Dog Smokehouse in Ventnor, General Manager John Connor explained that customers can finally step into the restaurant and, due to its open-kitchen concept, see how their food is being prepared.

The optimism and feeling of possibility this summer brings are in stark contrast to last summer, which Connor described as, at times, “apocalyptic.”

“I didn’t see that joyfulness in people’s eyes when they were coming in,” Della Fave said. “A lot of people were scared. And they were just coming in, getting their food and then running out.”

But COVID-related fears weren’t just felt by visitors. Those working at the shore had concerns about what COVID would mean for their businesses.

“Our staff was certainly nervous about how long things would remain closed,” Bittner said. “We rely heavily on our membership and our programs and services that we provide to be able to service the community.”

Milton & Betty Katz Jewish Community Center swim instructor Jackie Litchenberger works with Allison Norris in Margate. | Photo by Alicia Paccione

When vaccines became widely available, people were receptive. According to Connor, people saw the vaccine as “a badge of honor that they’re doing their part in helping reopen society.” 

With many people vaccinated, Della Fave said he could sense the return of normalcy. But that doesn’t mean businesses are now without challenges, and labor shortages are common in the food service industry.

“It has been very hard right now, down the shore, to find help,” Della Fave said.

Many restaurants, including Water Dog, were used to accommodating high volumes of takeout orders and were able to quickly adapt to becoming takeout-only.  

However, exclusively offering takeout requires a lot from staff: many more orders, and less time to fulfill those orders, compared to the more reasonable pace of dining in. 

Della Fave relied on the help of family members and students at Atlantic City High School when he was in a pinch last year, and some of the same students are returning this summer — students, he said, weren’t as afraid to work as older employees were during the pandemic.

For Connor, finding staff for Water Dog is still an issue. Some workers needed to stay home to accommodate children being homeschooled, while others didn’t want to return to work at all. And because of the booming real estate market, construction jobs were in abundance, and some cooks left the restaurant industry for construction jobs. Some stayed home and found that unemployment checks were a steadier source of income than a job outside the home.

To make do, Water Dog hired less qualified workers, hoping to train them on the job. They offered $500 incentives to new employees after 90 days of employment, and $250 to staffers who successfully recruited a

new employee.

Though restrictions have loosened, some vestiges of pandemic-safety measures remain: Hand sanitizer stations still stand at Downbeach Deli, along with a plethora of outside seating options. Campers at Camp By The Sea were instructed to stay within their own group this year, and there are fewer activities with other groups of campers. 

They are reminders that things are better than they were a year ago, but not quite the same.

While difficulties and reminders from a year-and-a-half of a pandemic linger, so, too, do lessons learned.

“We’ll never, ever forget the importance of the interpersonal connection, and the presence that we feel when we are physically together,” Menaker said. “And that is a very deep learning, I believe.” | 215-832-0741


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