Memorial Day Kicks off South Jersey Spa Season


From Sea Bright to Cape May, landlords and business owners have spent weeks readying the Jersey Shore for Memorial Day weekend, the summer season’s dress rehearsal.

Public works crews have dragged lifeguard stands and trash receptacles onto the beaches almost around the clock. Long Beach Island has put its traffic lights into full operation for the first time since fall. And bright spring blooms bob in freshly painted flower boxes everywhere.

In Surf City, on Long Beach Island, officials just this week completed a cleanup of unexploded military munitions that began to show up on the beach after a sand-replenishment project two years ago. Nearly 2,000 munitions later, the Army Corps of Engineers swears it has carted off the last of them.

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Road crews have been busy, too, with workers wrapping up projects on the Atlantic City Expressway, Garden State Parkway, and other major roads in Atlantic, Cape May, and Ocean Counties.

Last Memorial Day weekend, 882,407 vehicles traveled the expressway, and 7.6 million used the parkway. AAA has predicted a slight decline this year, but with gasoline about $1.50 less a gallon now than it was a year ago and good weather forecast – mostly sunny with passing thunderstorms, highs between 75 and 80 degrees – tourism officials hope to prove the club wrong.

Until this week, most of the Shore’s traffic had been lines of delivery trucks carrying fresh linens, tortilla chips, suntan lotion, and other beach essentials to hotels, motels, restaurants, and shops. It takes a lot of work to get the resorts shipshape for their first big wave of visitors. And no one may be in more of a race than Mike Popdan and his small crew.

“I don’t know of anyone who’s in a rush like we are. We have to be out here from sunup to sundown to get this place together,” said Popdan, general manager of the private Club at Diamond Beach, just south of Wildwood Crest in Lower Township.

“We basically have three weeks to start from scratch to build our entire club,” he said.

Though a group of investors owns the 600-foot-wide beachfront – one of few such arrangements at the Shore – state law prohibits Popdan from placing anything on the property until May 1.

His crew has three weeks to install walkways, two bars, a restaurant, decks, cabanas, restrooms, outdoor showers, a children’s playground, and all of the club’s electrical wiring and plumbing. Each year, it carts in a small forest of palms and other tropical plants to give the place a Caribbean-South Seas feel.

The property, at the end of Raleigh Avenue, got a bad rap a few years ago when it was the Atlantis Beach Club, and its then-owner charged tenants of adjacent condominium complexes exorbitant fees to use the beach. The state Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the property must provide public access at a reasonable rate.

Under new ownership, the Club at Diamond Beach charges $5 for a daily beach tag and $300 for the season. An additional $40 buys a membership to the club, which sells alcoholic beverages. Lunch, beach chairs, umbrellas, and other amenities are extra.

“It’s really cool when it all comes together, to see that nothing was here but the sand and ocean, and then there’s this little slice of paradise for people to come, bring their families, and enjoy a beach day,” Popdan said.

Even though summer doesn’t officially start until a month or so after the Memorial Day weekend most of us treat this three day holiday as if it did mark the onset of the season. Of course, it helps when it’s the first warm long weekend in months which means barbecues in the backyard, outdoor concerts, picnics in the park hitting the links, and of course Summertime Spa Getaways.

The holiday is the “soft opening” of beach season, which doesn’t really hit its stride until around July Fourth, Mayberry said. “You have to see what you need and get your personnel in order. . . . Memorial Day is a good barometer for all that.”

Michele Gillian, executive director of the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce, hears that from her membership every year, she said.

“They kind of use Memorial Day to feel out how they think the summer might shape up,” Gillian said. “But even with all the work they might still have to do, they all tell me they are very ready to see the visitors come back.

“Even if they don’t have all the painting finished or every single item in yet, after a long, hard winter, they’re definitely ready for the season to start.”

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