By MADDY VITALE
Ocean City’s Boardwalk merchants say they have a plan in place to meet all of the safety guidelines to protect customers and themselves from the spread of COVID-19. They also warn that if Gov. Phil Murphy does not allow them to open soon, it may mean the end of some of the businesses.
“The whole business community needs to come together and lobby for us to open,” said Jody Levchuk, co-owner of the Jilly’s stores on the Boardwalk and a newly elected city councilman. “It is time to open. I believe that the citizens will do their duty to keep their distance and put face coverings on or stay home if they feel unsafe.”
Like other merchants, Levchuk noted that businesses are currently only allowed to offer curbside pickup, takeout orders or delivery, which only accounts for about 10 percent of business.
According to an Ocean City Boardwalk Merchants Association survey released Friday, revenue in 2020 is down by more than 50 percent for more than three in four Boardwalk businesses — and merchants universally say the season is in danger of being lost if state-imposed business restrictions are not lifted soon.
The survey found that 100 percent of the Boardwalk businesses report having social distancing, safety, and hygiene plans in place.
Additionally, business owners overwhelmingly believed stay-at-home orders and business closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic were justified, but are no longer necessary, the survey said.
Murphy’s latest order allows retail shops to open and restaurants to offer outdoor dining on June 15, which does little to solve the economic challenges facing many Ocean City Boardwalk merchants, according to the survey.
In the survey, 100 percent of merchants said they would be negatively impacted if the state requires amusement parks to remain closed, a major attraction on the Boardwalk
Some other survey results are as follows:
- Lost Business: 40 percent of Boardwalk merchants say revenues are down 51 to 75 percent, 24 percent say business is down 26 to 50 percent, 20 percent say it is down 76 to 90 percent, and 16 percent say business is down 91 to 100 percent.
- Salvageable Season: 20 percent of Boardwalk merchants say the season is salvageable for their business, while 80 percent said it “depends on when we are permitted to fully open.”
- Out Of Business: 12 percent of Boardwalk merchants said they have considered closing their businesses for good, while 80 percent said they had not. Eight percent were unsure.
Michele Gillian, executive director of the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce, joined in a remote hearing with local and state officials on Wednesday. The topic was the state’s reopening process.
The meeting was hosted by Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick and First District Assemblymen Anwan McClellan and Erik Simonsen.
The meeting demonstrated that Ocean City officials and business owners are not the only ones feeling that there is a major need to reopen businesses to salvage the tourism economy, Gillian said.
“I think that the Boardwalk merchants survey, along with testimony given on Wednesday, solidifies the frustration we all feel in a tourism-driven economy,” she said. “There has been very little attention given to the economic devastation that COVID-19 is having on the region and on Ocean City.”
She said that it appears the governor is not listening to the needs of the shore business communities.
Gillian fears that the ominous findings of the survey are not only accurate, but said that another survey should be conducted at the end of the year to see the fallout from the shuttered businesses.
“It seems extremely concerning to see those numbers,” she pointed out of the survey. “Understandably, these businesses would have been open in March and now it is June and we are still getting the run-around and mixed messages from the governor.”