In January of 2005, Susie and I lived our dream, and bought our beach house in Ocean City, NJ. Located in the north end of town, about 500 feet down the street from the beach, it was truly our home…except during the busy summer months, when we shared our home with some renters, to help pay the mortgage! In November of 2017, we sold our home of 31 years in Mineola, New York, traded our New York license plates and driver’s licenses for the Jersey variety, and the home we bought at the beach in 2005 became our one and only home, and we became full time residents of Ocean City, New Jersey.
Ocean City is the northern most city in Cape May County. Estimates put its 2020 full-time population at around 10,800, but in the busy summer months of July and August, the population of our little beach town is closer to 150,000 men, women, and children. Befitting its start as a Christian Summer Retreat, Ocean City is a dry community. No liquor sales in town, no BYOB at local restaurants, no kegs on the beach. There are, however, two huge liquor stores just outside the city limit, over the bridges on the mainland, in Marmora and Somers Point. We are about 12 miles south of Atlantic City, and we get off the Garden State Parkway at Exit 30, so we are 30 miles from Cape May and the end of the Jersey Shore.
What we love about the place is that for better than 8 months of the year, it’s a sleepy little town. The kind of place where people in the local coffee shop and hardware store remember you, and where neighbors look out for neighbors. In July and August, it’s a hopping resort town, full of families looking to spend their week or two at the shore in our town. Are they all wonderful folks? Not always, but the vast majority of them are long time repeat visitors, who consider Ocean City their home at the shore. For years before we bought in 2005, that’s how we felt. Back when we rented out our house, we had lots of folks that came back year after year, and noted in our guest book that they felt they were home when they moved into our place.
So, how do we adjust during those months when our little sleepy down gains over 140,000 residents? Obviously, with more walkers, bikers, and cars driving around, you must be more vigilant than in say, January. It really seems that for some on vacation, turning their brain to “OFF” is a part of the decompression process. People walking and on bikes may pop out in front of you as you drive down the street. When you’re walking, you run the risk of our visitors not stopping at crosswalks when you’re trying to cross the street. Occasionally you’ll find yourself stuck behind a whole family riding 5 or 6 bikes all the way across the street you’re trying to drive down. Some consider stop signs and parking rules just suggestions, while others will drive down the street at 5 miles an hour sightseeing all the way! So # 1 on our list of Summer Rules is Be Vigilant!
Rule # 2 we try to abide by is only going across town on streets with traffic lights. There are a lot of stop signs in Ocean City, and in the winter months, it’s very easy to go across town on any street you desire. There are also streets all across town that have traffic lights in every block. From about mid-May through September, these are the only streets we use!
The third rule is all about traffic control. There are two exits for Ocean City on the Garden State Parkway. Exit 30 is the main exit and Exit 25 is for the southern end of town. In 2012, a new 9th Street Bridge opened up, replacing the 1932 bridge. Exit 30 leads to this new bridge which in turn leads right on to 9th Street in Downtown Ocean City. As such, it’s the main gateway to our town, and because of that, is avoided at all costs on Saturdays in season! House rentals in Ocean City typically run from Saturday to Saturday, starting between 2 and 3 PM the first week, and ending at about 10AM the second Saturday. Both the bridge at 34th Street (Exit 25) and the 9th Street Bridge need to be avoided Saturday morning as folks leave, and Saturday afternoon as people arrive. If you don’t have to leave Ocean City on a Saturday, DON’T, but if you do, take one of the two secret resident bridges into town! (They’re not really secret, but rather not bridges that most visitors know about or use…all the better for us!) So rule #3 would be to think twice before leaving town on a Saturday!
Ocean City has a great 2.5 mile boardwalk, filled with family friendly stores, places to eat, amusements, and mini golf! On a typical summer evening, it is THE thing to do in town if you are a visitor. However, there are lines to get food, back-ups at the mini golf courses, and lots of people trying to get on and off rides at the two amusement parks. If you’re a visitor to our fair city, it’s a wonderful way to spend the night, but for residents, not so much. The summer of 1983, oldest son Billy’s first summer on earth, we stayed in Ocean City for a week and did the boardwalk. For the next 30 plus years, we came with all three kids, and others, stayed in Ocean City and did the boardwalk. Even the years both before and after we bought the house, when Susie and I came alone to Ocean City, we did the boardwalk! Now, unless we have visitors that need to be on the boardwalk, we just don’t go! I guess rule #4 would be avoid the boardwalk unless necessary!
And then there’s the beach! We are very fortunate that we like going to the beach early in the morning (9-10 AM), while most visitors seem to do things in the morning, and come to the beach later in the day. Some wait till they’ve had lunch, some bring it with them and dine with the sand and the seagulls! By about the time the beach starts getting crowded, we’ve been there 3 or 4 hours, and are ready to head home for a cool drink and some lunch of our own. So, I guess part one of Rule #5 would be to go to the beach either early or very late (like 3 or 4 o’clock) in the day. We also use the behavior of renters as a rule of thumb. For most folks who arrive on Saturday afternoon, Sunday will be their first beach day, and at the other end of the week, Friday will be their last beach day. We find that Sunday and Friday are the most crowded beach days, so part two of Rule #5 is no beach for us on Friday or Sunday!
Rule #6 is simple…take your business elsewhere! While we love supporting our local businesses during the off season, during the summer months there are limited places to go to eat or shop, and lots more folks eager to experience the local businesses. We just find it easier in the summer to head off island for everything from hardware to bagels! Since we bought our house in 2005, we have discovered more things off the island that we never knew existed in all the years we’d been coming to Ocean City since my first year in 1955. We now consider our neighbor across the bridge, Somers Point, to be part of our community, and find it’s easier in all ways to shop there. While we may still run to the local Acme on 8th street from time to time, it’s far easier to shop at the Shoprite in Somers Point, a store that most visitors have no idea exists!
The pandemic that hit in March of 2020 did change things up. Starting almost immediately after we came home from Florida mid-March, we saw more folks moving into their second homes. Many stayed through the summer, and many more than usual were with us all through this last winter. The real estate market in Ocean City is nuts, with very few properties for sale, and the ones that do come on the market, stay available a very short time and sell for sometimes more than asking. Rentals are also very tight, as we hear that more and more new buyers are planning on using their houses, rather than renting. What this will do for the economy and for our Summer Rules is yet to be seen, but whatever it takes, we will adapt and find a way to make it through the summer, counting the days till our beach town turns back into our sleepy little hometown!