Poll: Fewer trips to Shore this year
State residents said they spent less time than usual there, with many believing Sandy had wiped out much.
SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. Many New Jersey residents spent less time at the Shore than usual this summer, according to a poll released Wednesday, giving credence to officials' oft-repeated worries that visitors would stay away during the lucrative season because of a perception that Hurricane Sandy wiped out the entire coastline.
Nearly 40 percent of respondents to a Monmouth University-Asbury Park Press poll spent less time at the Shore than usual this summer, with many deterred by a fear that businesses had not reopened after the devastating Oct. 29 storm.
Poll respondents who did not visit the Shore as often as usual were asked why. Nearly half said the expectation that some businesses would not be open after the storm was a factor, including 25 percent who considered it a major factor and 22 percent who said it was a minor factor.
Dennis Behsman and his wife, Sandy, usually spend part of their summer in Ocean or Monmouth Counties, scenes of the worst destruction, but stayed away this summer.
"They made it sound on the news like the entire area was just wiped out and washed away," he said.
On their way down this week to the largely spared South Jersey Shore town of Ocean City, they decided on a lark to stop off in Seaside Heights, home to one of the storm's most-photographed images - a roller coaster that plunged into the ocean when the pier that supported it was swept away.
"It was fine," Behsman said. "A couple of the houses looked like they had some minor damage, but the news made it sound like everything was that way."
The erroneous perception that the entire Shore was wrecked gave rise to the ubiquitous "Stronger Than the Storm" ad campaign, which has drawn criticism from Democrats for including Republican Gov. Christie in the spots during his reelection campaign. Christie defended the ads as necessary to protect the state's tourism industry, which accounts for close to $40 billion a year.
Overall, nearly six in 10 New Jersey residents polled said they visited the Shore this summer. That's down from the 70 percent who said in February that they planned to do so. Only 9 percent said they made an extra effort to visit more frequently this year.
Erratic weather also played into decisions to stay home or go elsewhere. Twenty-two percent who stayed away cited weather as a major factor; 23 percent called it a minor factor.
The telephone poll of 783 New Jersey adults, conducted from Sept. 6 to 10, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
The poll comes as the anniversary of the storm approaches. While many heavily damaged communities have made major strides, others are having a harder time. Destroyed buildings still need to be torn down, and many homes still standing need extensive renovations that are keeping their owners living elsewhere. Many need to be elevated to comply with new federal flood-insurance regulations.
Despite the lingering challenges, many visitors say they are gratified there are still many places for tourists to patronize. Joan Bosko of East Brunswick said she and her family have visited the Shore repeatedly each year and did so again this year.
"I love this place," she said, eating a raspberry and vanilla frozen custard swirl on the boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach. "I grew up here as a kid. Everything we love is here, and things are fine.
"We did everything this year that we always do. People need to keep coming down here."