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Thursday, July 18, 2024

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Business Owners Prepare for a Punch

Five Mile Island Mayors Urge: Don't Relocate Due to COVID-19

By Shay Roddy

To access the Herald’s local coronavirus/COVID-19 coverage, click here.
WILDWOOD – It was projected to be a banner year for tourism in the Wildwoods. Now, many businesses are worried lost profits would make it difficult to survive.
The inaugural air show over the beaches, scheduled for the first weekend in June, and a massive three-day country music festival scheduled later that month, were supposed to jump-start what could have been a record season. The air show is canceled, and the music festival is postponed. However, like anything else scheduled for June in New Jersey, its fate is uncertain.
With each passing weekend, some supplemental spring business is being lost. When things will kick off is anybody’s guess.
“I am optimistic, but not Memorial Day. I’m thinking Fourth of July,” said Diane Wieland, Cape May County’s director of marketing and public information officer.
Hotels and Motels
Hotel and motel owners are taking phone calls and issuing refunds, but one job they aren’t doing is booking rooms.
“Right now, at this point, we have probably refunded over $40,000,” said Jimmy Johnson, owner of the Imperial 500, in Wildwood Crest.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a poll at the beginning of April, revealing that one in four small businesses said they are two months away from going under.
“That’s a sobering thought,” said Steve Tecco, president of the Greater Wildwood Hotel and Motel Association, and owner of the Armada, in Wildwood Crest. “It is a two-edged sword. Not only are there refunds going out, but at the same time, there are no new reservations coming in.”
Johnson and Tecco have been spending the winter renovating rooms in their respective motels. Johnson said he’s being asked to refund money, some of which has been used doing the work.
“You count on reservations starting in January, where you get income to finish the job,” Johnson said, “but you end up spending those deposits to do the work, and then you have people calling you who naturally want their deposits back. We’re pretty ethical. We try to refund everybody, but it’s pretty tough.”
Both owners are asking people to transfer their deposit to 2021 or July and August, if available, but understand some people need the cash.
“This is going to be, probably, a very painful summer,” Johnson said.
Small Business Loans Not Coming
Another problem for hoteliers, along with other small business owners, has been an inability to receive Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds – a government loan that will be forgiven if businesses keep all employees on the payroll for eight weeks. Tecco says the money is much needed, but due to a glitch, his bank, Crest Savings Bank, told him the applications couldn’t be processed before the $350 billion allocated for the program ran dry.
Tecco is attempting to get information from the bank to pass to other businesses in his association.
“[The bank] applied [for the program], and their application was approved, but after they were approved, they weren’t given, apparently their authorization number or their approval number,” Tecco said.
A call from the Herald to the president’s office at Crest Savings was not returned.
Gerald Reeves, president of Sturdy Savings Bank, told the Herald his staff has been working long hours and weekends to process the over 400 PPP applications in the order they were received, but only got 68 through before the program was out of money.
Reeves called the coronavirus “by far the most challenging” thing he’s faced in his 40-year career as a bank executive. He said his bank sees an average of 20 business loan applications per month and saw over 400 in seven days after the program was announced, putting unprecedented strain on resources and staff.
Sturdy is preparing remaining applications, therefore if another wave of funding is approved, they will be able to quickly process more PPP applications.
“I simply, completely and totally don’t believe another $350 billion is going to be adequate,” Reeves said, in a phone interview, speculating on a possible replenishment. “It’s just been an absolutely amazing demand. I’m certain that’s not going to be enough at 350.”
Realtors Affected
While there is currently a county-wide ban on short-term rentals, one local realtor is maintaining positivity, saying July and August have remained unaffected.
“We’re booming. We’re booking a ton of rentals. Matter of fact, we’re getting people who weren’t coming before and their trips to Europe, their trips other places, cruises are being canceled, but they want to get away,” said Brad Vogdes, of Atlantis Realty, in Wildwood Crest and North Cape May.
Vogdes believes the worry is more on the consumer’s end, but that the uncertainty of May leaves a cloud of uncertainty over June.
“I personally think if the ban is lifted, we’re going to see the busiest June we’ve ever seen because Jersey hasn’t announced it yet, but there’s no way schools are going back,” Vogdes said.
Rental-Support Businesses Affected
Mary Rulon, owner of Sisters’ Shore Cleaning, says 90% of her business is vacation homes and weekly changeovers. If the rental ban continues into peak season, it’s going to take its toll on her business.
“So many of us rely on the summer, the summer season to earn our living. We’re just hoping for the best,” she said.
“There is a lot of uncertainty right now across the whole country as to when the economy will open up. I am staying hopeful.”
She knows when businesses reopen, being in the cleaning business, she’s going to have her work cut out for her.
To contact Shay Roddy, email sroddy@cmcherald.com.

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