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Jersey Shore Restaurant and Bar Owners Facing Challenges this Memorial Day Weekend

Matt Harmon
The Boathouse Bar & Grill is one of the popular spots at the Jersey Shore

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has lifted mask and social distancing restrictions for bars and restaurants just in time for this Memorial Day weekend, but many of the owners of those establishments say they didn't have enough time to prepare and hire employees for the expected crush.

"Could there have been maybe the smallest bit more clarity that things were going to back work to normal for Memorial Day weekend, so maybe you could have had two or three more weeks to try and put a staff together."

That's Matt Harmon, co-owner of the Boathouse Bar & Grill in Belmar, New Jersey, who also stresses it's been a difficult time getting people to come off unemployment. Harmon spoke to WBGO's Doug Doyle via Zoom.

Matt Harmon on Zoom.jpg
Doug Doyle/Zoom
Boathouse Bar & Grill co-owner Matt Harmon chats with WBGO's Doug Doyle on Zoom

"We just finished our somewhat annual pre-summer staff meeting. This year we did it on Zoom, obviously any other year we did in person. One of our long-time staff members, I mean we've had people since 1998 when we first opened who still work for us and that comment was this meeting seems pretty light, because in a lot of ways it is. You go from a staff during the course of the year that whatever that number is, for a place that relies on summer business, multiply that by two, maybe two and a half, maybe even triple what you'd normally have and right now we just don't have that. Are we okay from a bartender standpoint, yes, but I would says probably the two areas that were probably hurting for would be security personnel and the second would be in the kitchen. It is really hard to find people to work in the kitchen. Is it a combination of people still not comfortable coming back to work, people still getting unemployment plus additional money so they be making more than they were in the first place to come back to work, to be fair I think all of it contributes. I won't use the word catastrophic but it's been an extreme challenge to try and find people to work."

Harmon would like to see the state provide some incentives to get people back to work.

Boathouse Bar & Grill.jpg
Matt Harmon
The Boathouse Bar & Grill is located on Main St. in Belmar, New Jersey

"Right now summer businesses and year-round businesses like the Boathouse we need people to work. You also need, like in the case of a Wawa, I mean the Boathouse doesn't have 500 dollars to give every person who walks in the door as in incentive, is that something the state could say if you come off unemployment before you are supposed to at the end of September, instead of giving you $300 a week, will give your $500 to get off of it to get back to work. Some incentive like that because the Jersey Shore, no disrespect to any other city, the Jersey Shore is the lifeblood of this state."

Sea Girt.jpg
Sea Girt Beach Patrol
Matt Harmon is a Lieutenant Lifeguard for the Sea Girt Beach Patrol

Harmon is also a Lieutenant Lifeguard with the Sea Girt Beach Patrol, a professor at Monmouth University and a broadcaster with the New York Red Bull and the Shore Sports Network.

On Thursday's Ask Governor Murphy call-in show on WBGO, Governor Phil Murphy addressed Harmon's comments.

"He's very reasonable and the Boathouse is a good spot and I would ask anyone if you're in Belmar to swing by. We made the decision (to lift the mask and social distancing restrictions), we announced on Monday, I finalized it Sunday night. Sadly, the virus still dictates the terms here. We were not sitting on that decision and I completely understand appreciate Matt's point. There's a big block of folks that think this $300 supplement is one of them (reasons for difficult in hiring) and that may well be the case. I don't think it's the overwhelming one. The economic analysis supports that it is not but I expect it's a factor. But that's also temporary. I think it's access to daycare, that's why we've a lot of focus and money into that. It's schools not being full-time in a lot of places so you don't have the ability to have your child in school. You got people who are scared still."

Ask Governor Murphy is a monthly call-in show on WBGO hosted by Nancy Solomon

Governor Murphy says he plans to make grants to small businesses on the shore from federal CARES Act funding to help. The governor says he expects a big summer for the shore economy, which brings in upwards of $50 billion dollars to the state's economy every year.

You can hear the May edition of Ask Governor Murphy on the WBGO Facebook page.

You can see the chat with Matt Harmon at https://fb.watch/5OmG_ni5c6/.

Doug Doyle has been News Director at WBGO since 1998 and has taken his department to new heights in coverage and recognition. Doug and his staff have received more than 200 awards from organizations like PRNDI, AP, New York Association of Black Journalists, Garden State Association of Black Journalists and the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.