Sayuri Torrealba sits on the boardwalk at her clothing boutique in Belmar, N.J.
BELMAR -- Tom Rogers is usually $15,000 to $20,000 in a hole this time of year, having laid out that much cash to stock supplies for his oceanfront food court. Jack Laniado says the bathing suit store he owns on the Belmar beachfront did phenomenal business in the first two days it opened this year, due to large crowds drawn by temperatures in the low-80s.
But not this year.
The unseasonably warm winter and spring thus far has boosted his business by 30 percent over a normal year. And that puts him in excellent shape for the summer season.
"We've been here 18 years, and this is the best spring we've ever had," Rogers said. "The difference between a good year and a great year is getting stuff done early, and this year, we're getting it done.
"I call it the 100 Days War," he said. "Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, we have about 100 days to make money. Anytime you get extra time to add to that, it makes it so much easier."
Many beachfront merchants up and down the Jersey shore report their businesses are up 30 to 40 percent over the levels they normally experience between their late winter openings to just before Memorial Day.
And they have Mother Nature to thank. The January-through April period in New Jersey was the warmest on record, dating back to 1895, said state Climatologist David Robinson. There were three days in March when the mercury hit or exceeded 80 degrees, and April had four. In fact, on April 16, weather stations in five counties registered a temperature of 91 degrees.
And that brought out the strollers and shoppers.
Brent Hanley, who owns the Shirt Shack T-shirt and sweat shirt store on the Ocean City boardwalk, says his business is up 40 percent this year because warmer weather has brought more customers out earlier than usual.
"Last year was the worst: the whole month of April it seemed like it rained and May was pretty bad too," he said. "I do think people are in a better mood when it's sunny and warm. And when they're in a better mood, they buy more stuff."
The early business has the added benefit of giving merchants an early peek at emerging trends.
"It's great for us because it gives us an early idea of what's going to sell this year," Hanley said. Early favorites include T-shirts and sweat shirts with the Ocean City name heat-sealed to the front, and "Jersey Shore"-themed clothing tied into the MTV show.
On an 82-degree mid-April day, retiree Lou Farina of Edison came to the beach for an ice cream cone - something he doesn't usually do until the thick of summer. And the family of 4-year-old Gavin Rivera of Matawan was in Belmar for an early vacation. All made their way into Rogers' ice cream shop, which also saw its share of beachgoers tracking sand through the front door, wearing dripping wet bathing suits.
Sayuri Torrealba, a saleswoman at a clothing boutique on the Belmar boardwalk, said her business is up 30 percent due to the weather.
"This time last year, we weren't even open," she said. "But there are so many people on the boardwalk already, how could we not? People are coming in a lot more."
Jack Laniado picked the perfect time to open a swimsuit store on the Belmar beachfront: right at the start of a nearly a week of temperatures in the 80s in April.
"I'm shocked at the numbers we're doing," he said. "It's like, from God."