New Jersey is a gas tank away from a third of the U.S. population. So this year more than ever, as folks emerge from the COVID scare that's been pestering the country for 14 months, officials and tourism leaders in the Garden State are counting on local traffic to create a memorable summer business-wise.

In part 3 of our series on summer at the shore during recovery from COVID-19, city officials and business groups present a positive outlook for the summer ahead — this time last year, retail shops and restaurants were prohibited from serving customers in person.

"Last year was extremely difficult on all fronts," said Lori Pepenella, CEO of the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce and vice president of the New Jersey Tourism Industry Association. "With vaccinations underway, it makes a big difference for visitors, for residents, for staffing."

Summer Fun in the Sun — Join Eric Scott 7 p.m. Thursday to hear from Jersey Shore mayors, representatives from the state’s biggest outdoor attractions as well as a panel of health and business experts in a special town hall about what the summer season will look like in New Jersey this year. Watch live at

It's already tough to find a shore rental during the prime summer season along the Jersey Shore, according to several towns and real estate agents. Demand actually ramped up in late 2020 and stayed strong through early spring.

And plenty of shore mayors had their wish granted, or part of it, when Gov. Phil Murphy repealed the mandate on face coverings in outdoor public spaces. For the time being, despite Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that suggests otherwise, masks will remain required at indoor establishments for all patrons and staff, vaccinated or not.

"Once those masks go away, people are going to forget about this," Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron said about the pandemic. "Every time you look up and see someone with a mask, or you put one on yourself, it's hard to forget."

Byron said advanced hotel reservations in the city appear to be exceeding figures from 2019, which was considered "a good summer."

The city will not repeat a shutdown of Pacific Ave. this summer for outdoor dining, but restaurants will be able to serve individuals outdoors, and a select number of makeshift seating areas will take over parking spots along the strip, Byron said.

In Toms River, in line with last summer's tradition, Washington Street will be closed off to vehicles on weekend nights for outdoor dining and other happenings, according to Mayor Mo Hill. The township saw a number of eateries and small businesses close their doors last summer due to the public health crisis.

"I think there's a light at the end of the tunnel, I just hope it's not a train headed for us," Hill said.

Seaside Heights Mayor Tony Vaz is hopeful for a "100%" reopening by July 4 at the shore. Vaz noted that current rental and booking activity suggests many individuals are considering the shore to be the safest bet for travel, compared to an overseas or cross-country flight.

"I'm enthusiastic that this summer is going to be a good summer, and the thing we need most is sun," Vaz said.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at

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