ATLANTIC CITY - Summer ended with a splash here on Labor Day, with packed casino pools, a full beach, and a busy Boardwalk on a perfectly sunny day - giving the struggling resort one more weekend of reprieve before another nearly deserted offseason.
It was just as glorious an ending for the Shore in general, capped with a tribute to Philadelphia-bred music legend Chubby Checker in Wildwood, where he first performed "The Twist" live at the Rainbow Club in 1960.
From Cape May to Long Beach Island, tourism officials raved about the great weather and the warmer water that helped boost visitation over last year.
"Great weather often means a great summer," said John Siciliano, executive director of the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority. "And we had a fantastic summer."
Siciliano was just as animated minutes later when introducing Checker "as the best-selling recording artist of all time" to the large crowd that gathered at the corner of Garfield and Pacific Avenues in Wildwood to see a mural wall dedicated to him. Checker was the third artist to be so honored; Bobby Rydell and Bill Haley and the Comets were honored with their own murals in Wildwood last year.
Checker sold more than 200 million records with his chart-topping hit "The Twist." He went on to win a Grammy in 1961 for its follow-up, "Let's Twist Again."
"I can't tell you what an honor it is to be here," said Checker, 73. He was joined Monday by his wife of 50 years, Catharina Lodders Evans, and his children and grandchildren. " 'The Twist' changed the dance floor in 2 minutes and 42 seconds. The American people never let it go. It was transformative."
After Checker's speech, the crowd broke into loud applause as the mural with his image - doing the twist, of course - was unveiled on the wall of Romeo's Famous Pizzeria. "The Twist" then blared from speakers, and everyone began twisting, with Checker front and center.
For Atlantic City's casinos, the past year was one of transition, and uncertainties persist.
The city's eight remaining casinos await word on whether Gov. Christie will bail them out with a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) plan. The drumbeat for casinos for the northern half of the state thumps louder. The city's mayor is grappling with not yet having a budget for next year because he does not know his revenue sources. And the city's local casino union is threatening to strike at the Trump Taj Mahal.
The scenery was enlivened with the arrival of 52 Miss America contestants last week, however, and the mood on Labor Day weekend was upbeat.
"This is the final weekend to relax and take it all in," said Jaentov Hercsky, 32, of Bergen County, as he lounged poolside at the Water Club at the Borgata in the city's Marina District. "Who wants to deal with the stresses that we will eventually have to deal with?"
Several Atlantic City casinos reported some stabilization since last year's unprecedented downsizing of the market, in which the Atlantic Club, Showboat, Revel, and Trump Plaza all shuttered.
Operating profits were up in July at six of the eight remaining casinos. On a same-site basis, gaming revenues (including online operations) increased to $257.5 million, up 8.1 percent from $238.3 million in July 2014. August revenues are scheduled to be announced this week.
"It was a great summer for Borgata, and appears to be a very good summer for Atlantic City," said Joe Lupo, senior vice president of operations at the market-leading Borgata, which debuted a new outdoor concert venue this summer. "The rightsizing of the city has enabled the remaining casinos to speak to Atlantic City visitors, creating more energetic properties."
Added a spokesperson for Harrah's Entertainment Inc., which owns Bally's, Caesars, and Harrah's Resort, and the former Showboat: "While we are still cautiously optimistic, Caesars, Harrah's Resort, and Bally's did see some signs of stabilization this summer. As we head into the offseason, with the Waterfront Conference Center [which debuts Sept. 17] booking extremely well, we hope this continues to be the trend."
A weather boost
Warmer water definitely helped boost visits to the resort this summer, said Jim Eberwine, a retired forecaster with the National Weather Service who specialized in hurricanes, nor'easters, and marine weather for more than 40 years.
Surf temperatures were about 2 degrees above normal for Atlantic City this year.
"In years past, we had several upwelling days," Eberwine said of the phenomenon in which the surface of the water is cooled by southwesterly winds. "But this year, we only had one or two. As a result, the water temperatures were allowed to stay warm not only at the surface, but deep waters were warm as well, since cold water was not rushing up from the bottom.
"When we did have upwelling events, we didn't see these drastic drops in the temperatures because the bottom waters were warm, too," continued Eberwine, who currently teaches aviation weather at Atlantic Cape Community College for air-traffic controllers. "The warmer waters is what people live for, and attracts a lot of them."
That's what brought Kristy Shaw, 36, and daughter Savannah, 5, to Atlantic City every two weeks this summer. She parked on Monday in the Tropicana garage.
"This is why we're here," said Shaw, a homemaker from Glendora, Camden County, as she pointed to the waves on the other side of the Boardwalk. "The beach."