SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Amusement parks and arcades are now up and running in New Jersey as they hit another milestone on the road to recovery.
It was bumper-to-bumper traffic heading to Seaside Heights, New Jersey, where the gates to rides, doors to arcades, and slides at the water park reopened for the first time this season.
The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entertainment for months, only allowing people access to the beach, boardwalk and restaurants.
Now all businesses are fully operating again.
From the arcades to boardwalk games, it was clear that summer nights at Seaside Heights have returned for families.
“Nobody thought it was going to open in time for us,” one boy from Massachusetts said.
But it was the right time for businesses looking to cash in on a late start to the season after COVID-19 shut down all the boardwalk fun.
Tara Murray is a stand worker at Coin Castle. The job isn’t her bread and butter, but it helps her financially.
“I call it my play money,” she said. “Because I’m a school teacher, I was OK, but I know other people up here were definitely hurt.”
People like stand worker Donald Daugherty, who says his pockets were hit hard.
“I didn’t qualify for unemployment,” he said. “It’s a struggle. I got three kids, you know, you know. Just gotta find little odd jobs to make it work, you know, pay the rent, do what you gotta do.”
CBS2’s Cory James spotted Frank Rainey ushering in customers to pop balloons at his amusement stand.
He says being closed for weeks on end was hard.
“What’s been the hardest part?” James asked.
“Paying the rent. They’re not giving us any slack with the rent and everything so we have to try to do better in the times that we’re open,” Rainey said.
Now all businesses are operating again, some of them filled with hand sanitizer stands and socially distanced games.
Over at Sonny and Rickey’s Arcade, the manager says they are taking it a step further by assigning two employees each day to do frequent cleanings and enforce face coverings.
“Is that going to change the cost for customers?” James asked.
“Absolutely not. Nothing is going to change for them. We are going to remain absolutely the same in cost, in price. This pandemic is not the customers’ fault,” arcade manager Ashli Ann Schwing said.
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Mayor Tony Vaz says Ocean County is one of the leading counties in the state for tourism.
He believes dozens of businesses that survive off summer income will finally have chance to recover.
“We’re talking May to September. It’s not a long season,” he said. “With the rides being open and the arcades, it gives families a lot of activities … It’s a tremendous income for the state of New Jersey tax-wise and without this, it hurts the state also, their budgets.”
That money is also putting roughly 200 employees at Casino Pier back to work.
“We were able to bring back the people that we had to lay off in the off-season and then obviously people who were on employment are now able to work,” Casino Pier marketing director Maria Mastoris said.
It’s a positive change for Daugherty because now he’s in a place to better provide for his family.
“This is taking me out of the red already. Like I’m already caught up on rent and I’m doing pretty well. Food is in the house, kids are happy, that’s all that matters to me,” he said.
Some of the businesses who spoke to CBS2 say it’s too early to say if this reopening will take them out of the red. They are just waiting to see how everything pans out during the rest of the season, a season they fully expect to be challenged because of the ongoing pandemic.