From left, Joan Andrews, her husband, Paul Banelis, and her brother, Mark Andrews, spent Labor Day in Sea Isle City on the uncrowded beach.

By Donald Wittkowski

Yes, the meteorologists blew the forecast. Yes, business was down. And, yes, the rough surf and strong rip currents made the ocean treacherous.

But Monday was still a holiday, still a chance to have a blast during the waning days of summer. The Hermine-inspired exodus of tourists earlier in the Labor Day weekend emptied out parts of Sea Isle City, but for those who stayed in town there were no traffic headaches, there was free parking and there were plenty of sales to be found at local shops.

Mark Andrews, his sister, Joan Andrews, and her husband, Paul Banelis, spent a relaxing afternoon on a stretch of the 43rd Street beach not inundated by the unusually high tides generated by Tropical Storm Hermine.

As the water lapped the sand just feet from their beach chairs, they sipped drinks and watched their sons, Alex, Oscar and Max play football in the tidal pools.

Mark Andrews, a Sea Isle summer resident who lives in Voorhees, Camden County, said he and his family were happy that they stayed for the remainder of the holiday weekend instead of being scared away by what turned out to be a faulty forecast.

“We hunkered down,” he said. “There was a lot of discussion about the storm. We kept thinking, let’s see what happens. But we did have an escape plan ”

The escape plan was unnecessary. The storm that meteorologists had predicted would pummel the Jersey Shore with drenching rain, tidal flooding and powerful winds veered farther out to sea than forecast and proved to be a virtual no-show.

While their parents sunbathed on the beach, Alex and Oscar Andrews and Max Banelis played football in the tidal pools.

“Nothing. Bone dry,” was how Joan Andrews described Sea Isle’s streets.

Sea Isle City spokeswoman Katherine Custer said there were no reports of flooding or damage in town. The city kept residents and tourists updated on the storm during the weekend through a series of advisories, including reverse 911 calls, email blasts and posts on its website and Facebook page, she said.

On Saturday, when the storm was moving up the East Coast and appeared headed for the Jersey Shore, Gov. Chris Christie declared a state of emergency for Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties.

A steady stream of cars flowed out of Sea Isle on Saturday, crawling toward the northbound lanes of the Garden State Parkway to flee the storm’s predicted path.

“Certainly, it was much quieter. A lot of people on Saturday left the island,” Custer said.

While Sea Isle and other shore towns escaped the brunt of the storm, local shop owners suffered a decline in business caused by the departure of so many tourists during what would normally be a bustling holiday.

Chuck Dalrymple, owner of Dalrymple’s Card and Gift Shoppe, at the ocean end of John F. Kennedy Boulevard, estimated his business was down 35 percent on Labor Day.

“It has a tremendous effect on business — tremendously poor,” Dalrymple said of the storm threat.

Customers pick up some gifts during Labor Day shopping at Dalrymple's Card and Gift Shoppe.
Customers pick up some gifts during Labor Day shopping at Dalrymple’s Card and Gift Shoppe.

Overall, business was strong at Dalrymple’s for the weekend before the crowds began to leave, he said. Hoping to draw more customers on a slow day, Dalrymple’s put more items on sale than usual on Labor Day.

Dalrymple declined to criticize the meteorologists who got the forecast wrong. He said he understood the need for caution when so many lives were potentially at risk.

“It doesn’t bother me when they warn people like that,” he said. “You have no idea what direction the storm will go, so you have to be safe.”

At Sunsations, a women’s boutique next to Dalrymple’s, owner Elizabeth Essick was cutting prices on some dresses by 40 percent on Labor Day.

Essick said business was steady on Saturday and Sunday, but tailed off on Monday. One good thing, she noted, was that the people who did stay in town for the weekend were out shopping.

“It wasn’t a complete loss,” she said.

Essick said she wasn’t angered by the premature storm forecast. Like Dalrymple, Essick stressed that protecting everyone’s safety was paramount.

“I don’t think you can control Mother Nature,” she said.

Tia Tracey, an owner of James’ Fudge, another business anchor at the ocean end of JFK Boulevard, estimated her sales were off 20 percent to 25 percent for the holiday.

Chuck Dalrymple, owner of Dalrymple's Card and Gift Shoppe, estimated business at his store was down about 35 percent for the holiday.
Chuck Dalrymple, owner of Dalrymple’s Card and Gift Shoppe, estimated business at his store was down about 35 percent for the holiday.

“It wasn’t a horrible weekend,” she said. “The fact that it wasn’t rainy, people hung out on Sunday to see what it was like.”

Tracey said she believed that many tourists were scared away by the media’s intense coverage of Hermine. She noted that media interest in storms at the Jersey Shore has heightened since Hurricane Sandy’s widespread destruction in 2012.

Just steps from Tracey’s store, Beth and Kevin Wortman were marveling at the rough waves breaking on the beaches. The Wortmans, of Hammonton, stopped in Sea Isle while taking a holiday jaunt along the shore to check out any damage caused by Hermine.

What they found was an unblemished beachfront lacking the usual holiday crowds.

“I was surprised it was so quiet on a holiday,” Beth Wortman said.

Kevin and Beth Wortman, of Hammonton, found the beachfront surprisingly quiet during a stop in Sea Isle to see if there was any storm damage.