The Jersey Shore public baths once numbered in the hundreds. Now there are only a few left.


NORTH WILDWOOD, NJ – It was a typical June Sunday on the Jersey Shore, and as the sun started to set, people walked away from the beach with sand in their hair and ears, lodged deep in their navel and in more itchy places. below.

Nowadays, most beach goers are heading to nearby rentals and condominiums to take a shower, or maybe a dip in a local hotel pool. George Amundsen II, 64, and his son, George III, were there for the rest of them and a simple business philosophy based on soap, water and a bit of dignity.

“I mean, everyone deserves a shower, right?” Amundsen said on a bench by his business.

Parking is the bulk of the family business Amundsen, located just off the boardwalk on 24th Avenue in North Wildwood. It’s about as common as they come to the Jersey Shore, but the name of their business – “Wildwood Daytrippers” with bold red and white painted “Showers” alongside – is reminiscent of an old-time shore. , when the public baths were more numerous than the few car parks but the rich could spend the night there.

“We charge five dollars for a shower,” said Amundsen II, whose grandparents started the business in 1962. “It was $ 6 for a while, but I thought, what the hell.”

Amundsen II said the “shoobie”, a very controversial nickname for day trippers who traveled to the Jersey Shore by train and brought their lunches to the beach in a shoebox a century ago, are his. people. In fact, he promotes that same Shoobie philosophy on his website.

“To save even more money, pack a picnic and a bucket of chicken for dinner,” recommends the Daytrippers website.

Once in the hundreds at the turn of the 20th century, from Atlantic City south to Cape May, public baths where people can pay to take a shower have been reduced to a handful on today’s Jersey Shore. ‘hui. A 1990 Inquirer story found that demand for public baths was declining, with homeowners citing rising insurance premiums, high water bills, and declining number of day trippers as the main causes.

“People have more money and they can spend the night,” said a shuttered bathhouse owner at the time.

A newly renovated public bath at the 13th and the Ocean City promenade has been open for decades. In Wildwood, a few miles south of Daytrippers, another public bath near the beach appears to have closed in recent years.

“I just explained to a client from Florida what a public bath is,” said Tony Galante, who has run 13th Street Bikes & Bathhouse for 22 years. “He was like, ‘What is a public bath?'”

After World War II, Wildwood experienced a hotel boom, with hundreds of rooms and L-shaped buildings adorned with neon lights and the distinct, sharp angles of the resort’s famous Doo Wop architecture. Many of these hotels replaced the large guesthouses of the early 20th century, where guests often shared a bathroom. As the millennium approached, however, many of these classic hotels, like the Thunderbird Inn, were torn down as townhouses or their rooms were converted into condominiums, making an overnight stay even more difficult. .

Still, that didn’t create a bathhouse boom.

The Thunderbird Inn was once a neighbor of Daytrippers and at the height of the condo blitz around the turn of the millennium Amundsen II said he was offered $ 3 million for public baths and parking. A builder, Amundsen II said he plans to build condominiums on the property himself. For now, he leaves his son, George III, to take over the day-to-day operations.

“I mean, I like it here, so I really don’t care. Everything is fine, ”he said.

Public toilets on boardwalks and beaches up and down the coast issue stern warnings of high fines for anyone caught bathing or changing in a toilet stall. At least one Jersey Shore Police Department said this was rarely a problem.

“I mean, I appreciate the signs,” Amundsen II said.

Galante said public baths cannot survive on showers alone. He also rents bicycles. He charges $ 10 for a shower there, but that includes a one-day beach tag, he said, which is worth $ 5. While many municipalities in Shore have installed outdoor outdoor showers, Galante said they were primarily intended for the feet and for a quick rinse.

“You can’t really get the sand out of your crotch, armpits or hair with these,” he said.

At Daytrippers, around 5 p.m., it was shower time.

“This is the time the rescuers leave,” said Amundsen II.

One of the Amundsens’ first clients was owner Roy Nagel, who had spent the day babysitting unruly teenagers who had rented out his properties. It turns out that Nagel has even deeper beliefs about showers. He volunteers with a weekly “shower ministry” in Atlantic City, Camden and the Kensington section of Philadelphia, conducting a stainless steel mobile shower for the homeless and those struggling with addictions.

“It restores dignity. Period, ”Nagel said. “Some of these people haven’t taken a shower for months.

Some patrons showered and then took to the promenade for pizza, rides, and games. Sasha Sanchez, 29 and eight months pregnant, said she just wanted to remove the sand before returning to North Philly.

“I’m already uncomfortable,” she said. “I’m not getting back in the car covered in sand.”