‘It’s sad’: One after the other, a number of South Jersey businesses close their doors

Wards Pastry owner Walt Hohman on Wednesday went through the difficult decision of closing the renowned pastry shop after nearly 100 years in business.

Rasmiyyah Ali visited Wards Pastry in Ocean City on Wednesday afternoon desperate to savor the last treats she’ll ever buy from one of her favorite stores since childhood.

“It’s sad,” said Ali, of Ocean City, while in line at the shop, which is set to close Sunday. “The nostalgia of it is going to be missed.”

Ali is not alone in her sentiments.

A series of recent closures of longtime businesses have left hundreds of customers clamoring for one last fix before the doors shut. Wards joins its crosstown neighbor Voltaco’s Italian Foods and Gaspare’s Italian Bistro in Egg Harbor Township in choosing the end of summer to end their long runs in South Jersey.

Walt Hohman, Wards’ owner, said he’d been planning on retiring, but high inflation, supply chain issues and rising wages drove him to hang up his baker’s apron earlier than expected.

“It’s not getting any easier,” Holman said while working from a small office space inside the pastry shop Wednesday. “It’s definitely time to call it a day.”

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His bakery has been churning out desserts for locals and visitors for nearly 100 years.

“We had a good summer, we were real busy, but on the other hand, we just didn’t make that much money because the ingredients are so much more expensive,” Hohman said.

Many Americans have been forced to accept rising inflation, paying higher-than-usual prices for common goods, such as food and gas.

Higher prices also have challenged business owners.

Economists said consumer prices rose 8.1% in August compared with a year ago, down from 8.5% the previous month, according to data provider FactSet.

As prices continue rising, small businesses nationwide are reporting fewer visits from their regular customers, many of whom continued spending at their stores throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Voltaco’s owners chose Oct. 9 to serve their last takeout and home-cooked meals. The single-floor restaurant with blue awnings on West Avenue sat empty Wednesday. The lights were off, and no one appeared to be working inside.

The owners could not be reached for comment as of Friday.

Gaspare’s closed after 45 years in business. Management at the Italian restaurant in the Harbor Village shopping plaza off Zion Road said losses caused by the pandemic compelled its owners to make the difficult decision.

“We never would have been able to stay open without you!” Gaspare’s wrote on Facebook, thanking its faithful clientele.

On Sept. 11, the OC Surf Café, without giving reason, said Sunday would be also be its last day in business, ending a 10-year run.

“We have had a great run, had the best staff and most wonderful customers anyone could ask for,” the Surf Café wrote on Facebook. “We want to thank everyone who has supported us, we have enjoyed getting to know you and your families.”

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While the public may find the closures alarming, they appear to not be a part of a trend that one could contest is being brought on by inflation, said Emily Paul, president of the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce.

Paul said Tuesday she’s heard from the business community that inflation hasn’t pushed most business owners into making a drastic choice to cease operations.

“They’re still having decent summers,” Paul said.

However, the possibility of inflation spurring a series of business closures is something Paul and the chamber monitor frequently.

“We try to have open lines of communication with our membership so that if those kinds of trends do start to emerge, we would certainly do our best to be reactive to that,” Paul said.

The chamber will hold a strategic planning meeting next month, in which its members will discuss summer trends and prepare for the offseason and summer 2023, Paul said.

Meanwhile, around noon Wednesday, Wards’ staff worked to manage a rush of customers looking to savor their favorite pastries from the shop before Sunday. Besides a sheet of cookies, pies and cakes covered in vanilla and chocolate icing, most items placed behind the store’s glass cases in the morning had vanished.

About a dozen blueberry pies were being prepared for baking, and fresh bread was run through a slicer that, with its cutting board, made a thunderous noise through the shop.

“We took in more money in one day than we do in a week in January,” Hohman said.

Once Ward’s closes, its new owners will convert the store into a sports apparel shop, Hohman said. But for many with a sweet tooth, nothing will compare to the scrumptious treats and sweet smells drifting onto Asbury Avenue from inside the store.

One woman wanted to know whether Wards would be selling any of its recipes.

Many said they see Ward’s closing as the landscape of Ocean City changing.

“I’ve been here many times,” Mary Gigliotti, of Ocean City, said while picking up a pumpkin pie in the store Wednesday. “We’re always sad when people work here for a long, long time and we’re used to going to them. We just feel bad.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Ali is not alone in her sentiments.

Source: https://pressofatlanticcity.com/news/local/its-sad-one-after-the-other-a-number-of-south-jersey-businesses-close-their-doors/article_c2014654-346f-11ed-8146-c3412ba7a5d7.html

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