Can the Jersey Shore Culture of Springsteen and Snooki Survive?

Spread the love

When Sam Hernandez met his wife in 2010, he had never been to the beach in New Jersey.

Born and raised in Bushwick, Brooklyn, he’d always associated the Jersey Shore with the tan-and-party lifestyle of the MTV reality show. But his soon-to-be-wife, a New Jersey native, insisted he visit.

Once he was there, he was pleasantly surprised.

“I felt at home in Asbury Park because it had a feeling of Brooklyn about it,” he said. “It had some grit, it had some artiness to it, it had some edge. But it also had something beautiful about it.”

Now Mr. Hernandez, a 41-year-old consultant and entrepreneur, regularly takes his family to visit Pier Village, an oceanside complex in Long Branch, 15 minutes north of Asbury Park, staying either at the Bungalow Hotel there, or the newly opened Wave Resort.

Robert Miller, 42, a Manhattan resident who runs a travel agency, recently bought a condo at the new Asbury Ocean Club, a luxury hotel and residential building in Asbury Park.

“I’ve been to the Hamptons, I’ve been to Hudson Valley, and I just definitely know I’m a Jersey Shore person,” Mr. Miller said. “The Asbury Ocean Club is like New York meets the beach.”

Mr. Hernandez and Mr. Miller are part of a growing number of New Yorkers who are spending the summer on the Jersey Shore because of its proximity to the city, its welcoming vibe, and most recently, its growing number of upscale accommodations. Developers have noticed.

This summer alone saw five hotel openings or expansions in the area, all high end, including the brand-new Hotel LBI on Long Beach Island and the recently reopened Seaview, A Dolce Hotel in Stone Harbor, following an $18 million renovation.

House rentals are increasing as well. According to Airbnb, there were more than 6,300 guest arrivals at the Jersey Shore over Memorial Day weekend, up from about 4,800 arrivals from last year.

For many like Mr. Miller, it’s the convivial, laid back atmosphere that makes the New Jersey beach experience preferable to that of, say, the East End.

“I feel like in the Hamptons, you’re either at a pool party or you’re sort of secluded, but on the Jersey Shore, you have the boardwalks,” Mr. Miller said. “So everybody comes to the boardwalk at night to go to the restaurants and shops and hear music; everyone’s convening together.”

Slowly, however, these beach towns are upping the ante on luxury developments. And although the new hotels and businesses take inspiration from the boardwalk, where everyone is welcome, they are setting a more exclusive tone.

In 2016, when the developers iStar and Salt Hotels opened the Asbury Hotel and Asbury Lanes, a bowling alley and music venue, they made sure to keep the cultural energy of Asbury Park at the forefront, said Gail Schoenberg, a publicist who spends time on the Shore. (Ms. Schoenberg works with other restaurants in the area but does not represent the hotels or Asbury Lanes.)

But the Asbury Ocean Club, their new property, displays a level of high design that does not have much to do with the working-class town that Bruce Springsteen made famous.

The complex houses a boutique hotel on the fourth floor and 13 floors of condos, including the one Mr. Miller bought. Interiors have an airy, modern look.

The only nod to the city’s grittier identity is in the lobby bathrooms, where there are images of tattoos on the stall doors. That, and the ability to see and hear the outdoor shows at the Stone Pony Summer Stage a block away from the pool deck.

“We’re bringing luxury that you usually find in Manhattan and Miami, that has not been seen before in a city like Asbury Park,” says Brian Cheripka, master developer of the Asbury Park waterfront for iStar.

There has been an effort to support the existing community. In 2016, David Bowd, chief executive of Salt Hotels, opened a hospitality school, called Salt School.

Today, according to Salt Hotels, more than 90 percent of the 500-plus graduates are employed at the group’s three Asbury Park properties and most of the graduates come from Asbury Park or surrounding towns.

In Long Branch, construction has been going on for decades in an effort to revive the city. Today, most of it is being overseen by Kushner Companies, which was founded by Charles Kushner, the father of Jared Kushner, senior adviser to President Trump and his son-in-law.

Kushner Companies bought Pier Village in 2014. At the time, it already offered luxury condos, retail shops, restaurants, and the Bungalow. Kushner then built 70,000 square feet of retail, a carousel on the restored boardwalk, and the oceanfront Wave Resort, along with its six boardwalk restaurants. It also started work on another hotel that is scheduled to open in 2021.

Before Pier Village, this stretch of oceanfront in Long Branch sat abandoned since a fire in 1987 had destroyed the town’s pier. It was a far cry from the late 1800s, when seven United States presidents spent their summer vacations there.

Now, however, the stretch is home to shiny new condos, a glitzy members-only beach club, and several restaurants.

Some locals in Asbury Park and Long Branch, however, are wary of all the new developments in their towns.

Jenn Hampton, 44, opened her first art gallery in Asbury Park in 2006, turning it into Parlor Gallery in 2009, which is still open today.

“A decade ago, you could find many galleries, alternative art spaces and art happenings,” Ms. Hampton said. “We had more artists living and working here and more creative types visiting and contributing.

“Since Asbury Park is now more mainstream, the makers seem to be displaced and replaced by consumers. It is certainly bittersweet; it seems to be the oldest story in the world.”

In Long Branch, many longtime residents are happy to keep the Shore to themselves. Recently at Le Club, the members-only establishment, a woman shushed a man for talking too loudly.

A member replied: “If you want quiet, go to the Hamptons!”

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply