By Donald Wittkowski
Dot Tochterman, who has lived in Ocean City for about 25 years, compares tourists to house guests.
“You’re happy to see them come, but you’re also happy to see them go,” she said with a smile.
As the summer tourism season comes to its traditional close at the end of the Labor Day weekend, Tochterman and other local residents are saying goodbye to the visitors and getting ready to welcome the quieter fall months.
“We look forward to them coming in the spring, but we also look forward to them leaving in the fall,” Tochterman said.
Tochterman and her friend, Joan Taylor, also an Ocean City resident, contemplated the arrival of the tranquil off-season while savoring an ice cream on the Boardwalk during a gorgeous, sun-splashed Labor Day afternoon. The beaches and Boardwalk around them bustled with holiday tourists, but by Tuesday, the huge crowds are expected to be gone.
“It will be much quieter,” Tochterman predicted.
Asked what she likes the most about the off-season, Taylor replied, “Everything.”
Ocean City, a town with about 11,700 year-round residents, can see its summer population swell to close to 150,000 people at the peak of the tourism season. Inevitably, there are traffic backups, lines getting into restaurants and tight space on the beaches when so many people pack the town.
Local residents acknowledge the importance of tourists for the Ocean City economy, but they also admit that the post-Labor Day slowdown allows them to enjoy the beaches, Boardwalk and other attractions in town without having to contend with the crowds.
Along the Jersey Shore, the fall months, still warm enough to sunbathe on the beaches, are known as the “local summer.”
“September is my favorite month. The weather is still nice and you can always find a place to park,” said Jackie Morris, an Egg Harbor Township resident who enjoys the Ocean City beaches.
“I love October, too,” added Patty Newman, Morris’ friend who also lives in Egg Harbor Township.
Morris, her husband, Dan, and Newman lounged on the busy Surf Road beach in Ocean City’s Gardens section on Labor Day. Sounding relieved, Newman noted that when the beach crowds thin out after the holiday, “you can exhale.”
“I love it in the fall because it’s still gorgeous weather. It’s absolutely wonderful,” she said.
Devon Trout, a Somers Point resident who loves Ocean City’s beaches, said the hectic summers at the shore and the leisurely fall months are like “night and day.”
“September is the best month. It’s so much quieter,” she said while sitting on the beach at Surf Road.
Trout also pointed out that things slow down dramatically at the shore when children go back to school. Her 8-year-old son, Timmy, and 5-year-old daughter, Hanalei, will start their first day of school on Tuesday.
Timmy Trout said he doesn’t mind returning to school, but did concede that he will miss the beach and ocean. He also likes summer because the Fourth of July is his birthday.
Somers Point resident Carly Decker, Devon Trout’s friend, brought her 7-year-old daughter, Autumn, to the beach with her on Labor Day. Decker stressed that there will still be plenty of family-friendly activities to do in Ocean City during the fall.
“October is good, too. The amusement rides are open on the weekends for a while,” she said.
Summers are particularly important to Ocean City’s merchants because they are able to make most of their money when the tourists are in town. Wes Kazmarck, who has served as president of the Ocean City Boardwalk Merchants Association for 11 years, noted that fall’s arrival allows the local business owners to relax a bit after the frantic summer.
“The weather is great and you’re not fighting the crowds,” Kazmarck said. “From a merchant’s perspective, it’s more of a laid-back atmosphere. And for the locals, it’s a great time of year.”
Kazmarck said it appears the tourist season was a “good summer” for local merchants overall. But the Labor Day weekend was particularly strong for his business, the Surf Mall on the Boardwalk, after shaking off a rainy start on Saturday.
“It was one of the best Labor Day Sundays, if not the best Labor Day, that I’ve ever had,” he said.