It Just Feels…Different

Is the Jersey Shore losing its luster?

This is a common thought among many who venture to points south every weekend. Some will immediately claim it is a simple matter of repetition stemming from predictability and the natural process of aging, but that explanation is too easy. Instead, the issue appears to be more of a matter of economics and the rule of law.

What does that mean? Well, first let’s tackle the topic of money matters…

In short, there are simply less houses to rent in places like Spring Lake, Sea Girt and Beach Haven, and the Real Estate market is the prime reason for this. More and more, homes that used to fetch $25,000-$50,000 per summer are not seen by their owners as the real way to generate revenue on the property. On the contrary, these same owners are cashing out while the housing market is at its peak. Those who are buying are actually either living on the property or knocking down whatever is there and rebuilding the kinds of homes that absolutely aren’t rented to slightly rambunctious twenty and thirtysomethings.

Chicago Blvd, home block to SundressFests I, II and III in Sea Girt, is a prime example. In the past year alone at least eight homes on a six block stretch to the beach have been sold and completely razed to make room for larger dwellings that engulf the entire lot of land. One such home even had the existing home broken up into whole pieces, loaded on a flat bed and donated to charity as a tax write off. Another was bulldozed and put back on the market for a higher price without a house on the lot than one with one existing.

So how does this affect the social scene at places like the Ketch, Parker House, Porch and Edgar’s? Simple…there are less people renting because of supply, and those estates still standing have seen their prices rise substantially, leaving those with more established and discretionary incomes (see: older people) as the only ones eligible or willing to pay through the nose to keep the dream of avoiding what some define as adulthood alive.

The result has been less bars being known as hotspots, as shore staples such as The Porch (Spring Lake), Spring Lake Manor, The Sea Shell (Beach Haven), The Pool Bar (Spring Lake-closed) and The Tide (Beach Haven-closed) no longer having juice to be considered the cool places to be.

In the Porch’s case, where scores of summer share rentals once stood are now flooded with modern townhouses and condominiums (see: not rentable). And if you can’t walk to or from the bar, the chances of stepping foot inside decreases. Once a bar is considered dead, it is very difficult to get the buzz around that establishment back again.

Places like the Parker House (Sea Girt), The Marlin (Beach Haven), Leggett’s and Edgar’s (Manasquan) still do well, but the days of being packed where everybody knows your name are long gone. The crowds are still strong, but with those displaced being added to the mix from other towns or bars, they aren’t the quality they once were.

Way back in the early 21st century, it seemed each bar had its own identity that was dictated by its clientele. Now, the melting pot is such that cliques within the bar are more prevalent than ever, making the chances of going outside the usual circle even more remote…thereby cutting down on the welcomed randomness that once made the shore a truly unique experience.

The second factor, local law enforcement, is also dosing a tidal wave of reality on what used to be the short 90-120 minute ride to complete escapism. Beer pong/Beirut has been banned in towns like Belmar. Kiddie pools are no longer allowed in Sea Girt, even if said pool is out of the public eye and safely tucked away in a fenced-in backyard. Walking home from a bar while drunk (to avoid, ya know, driving while intoxicated that may result in actually hurting oneself or multiple others) is also enforceable even if you’re on a sidewalk alone and keeping a straight line while doing so.

On LBI, nearly every block in rental-heavy Beach Haven has signs screaming that the area is “No tolerance zone”, with fines starting in the hundreds and multiple fines ending in the thousands with an eviction sprinkled on top. In Sea Girt, noise violators must not only pay a hefty fine, but appear in court on a convenient Wednesday workday when doing so.

The unspoken war between renters and owners in beach communities has been raging for years, but lately the owners are getting even more benefit of the doubt when police are answering calls simply because renters aren’t as important to a local economy as they once were. The ultimate goal of homeowners in those areas is to eventually drive all summer shares out of their communities…either by force or making renting such a stressful hassle (both emotionally and financially) that they simply give up.

Is the experience still a blast? Of course…no matter how many rules are put into place or rental homes taken off the market, New Jersey and The Hamptons are two of the only places in the country that still adopt the “strangers living with strangers” philosophy during the summer. Ultimately, there is no more of a seamless and exciting way to meet new people with common interests than to join a beach house with 20 others that you’ve never met before.

Those who have answered ads on Hoboken websites or Craig’s list may not even realize how they have established their current crop of friends until backtracking to what brought them together in the first place: Separate decisions to do a summer share. High School and college friends may have moved away or had gotten hitched, so in an effort to keep things fresh and stimulating, they join a beach house and never look back.

At first in those situations things may have been awkward, but living with folks you’ve never encountered outside of an interview happy hour has a strange way of expediting the get-to-know-you-process. They see you when you wake up, know if you snore, what your good and bad habits are, and if you’re generally trustworthy and genuine, all within a month. This can be a very good thing if you’re open to learning about the lives of others in the same boat as you, and the friendships can last a lifetime.

Still, the romance and innocuous drama that once made the Jersey shore magnificent has been watered down noticeably for the reasons mentioned above. And those hoping for a return of the good ‘ol days of even 3-4 years ago, the fact is that it won’t ever be that way off the Garden State Parkway below Exit 98 again.