Tuesday, August 5, 2008

It's the Stupid, Economy

I read stories about our economic woes in every morning's papers. Everything costs more than it did a year ago, it's a bear market, we're in a recession, blah, blah, blah. Besides annoyance every time I fill my tank, I don't really notice many changes in or around me. My friends and I are all living our lives just the same as we have been; no one has been laid off, no one is entering foreclosure, no one is eating cat food. It took a weekend at the shore to really see the economic downturn in action.

On the macro level, boom and bust were evident everywhere in Wildwood. I have no prior knowledge of the island, but the remnants of the recent housing boom were readily observable. It was clear that the Wildwoods were a working-class resort; most of the housing consisted of modest beach cottages. Many of those cottages had been recently renovated; many of them had been torn down and replaced with larger structures: long, narrow, three or four story multi-unit condos. I didn't walk down a single block that didn't feature a plethora of "For Sale" or "For Rent" signs. Had I awakened yesterday morning with a sudden desire to rent a house or a condo and stay for the week, I could have had my choice of rentals. Investment in Wildwood real estate had clearly been rampant for at least several years, and those investments were now clearly lying fallow.

Had I driven down Friday on a whim, I also could have had my choice of motel rooms for the weekend. Driving around Friday night, a "No Vacancy" sign was the aberration, not the norm. The motels that had vacancies weren't those on the bay, or four blocks from the beach, or those that looked sketchy. Even oceanfront motels had vacancies aplenty. From what I can tell Wildwood is not an expensive resort. An efficiency suite that sleeps four at an oceanfront motel, with balcony with ocean view, went for $195 a night in this, the high season. The number of vacancies would seem to indicate that even a weekend at a beach less than a tank of gas away is beyond the reach of many this summer.

This was proven at the micro level. All weekend the day parking lots and the beach were relatively full. Wildwood's beaches are free, so for a nominal parking fee a family can have a day by the ocean. Although the boardwalk had plenty of pedestrians, the shops and arcades were empty. As of 9 PM Friday night, the amusement parks didn't have enough takers for most of the rides, so that the roller coaster, ferris wheel, etc. were standing idle. People lined up for slices of pizza, but we were able to get a table at a seafood restaurant overlooking the bay without a reservation and only a half hour wait. This summer, a day at the shore wouldn't seem to include any extras.

For Sunday happy hour we drove to a motel that had a swim-up tiki bar. A DJ was set up in a corner for karoke, but no one was singing; the bar had fewer than a dozen patrons on this sunny weekend day. You know things are bad when no one's drinking at the Jersey shore.

The good news was a painless weekend away, when we could get tables without reservations and get a seat at any bar we desired. The bad news is the way business, even in this resort area, is suffering, the wait staff who aren't making the tips they need, the business owners who perhaps aren't covering expenses, the homeowners who can't rent or sell. And the bad news is that it's summer. In August, no one is paying to heat their home. What will it be like in January, even for me, when my heating bill is almost as much each month as my mortgage?

I guess it's a good thing I feed my cat nutritional high-protein food. Maybe we'll be sharing it come January.


Anonymous said...

have you MET Rufus???? Do you actually think he will share his cat food with you? Honestly, you are living in a dream world girl.

Rufus said...

I do not appreciate that comment. If push comes to shove, I'll share some food, if only to ensure that more food will be forthcoming. The human does all the hunting and gathering, after all. However, I'll only share the dry food. I don't like that stuff anyway. The wet food shall remain mine and mine alone.

tunsie said...

the seafood at the restaurants is not from that part of the shore.It is from the fish market in philadelphia.Maybe rufus should of had dinner in one of those seafood restaurants with u.tunsie.tunsie.tunsie