HAMPTON BEACH — The end of the seafood festival marks the official end of the summer tourist season in Hampton Beachoffering a chance to look back at how the Seacoast fared during one of the most turbulent economic times many can remember.

Spring has begun with a series of hurdles facing local businesses: the labor shortage in New Hampshire, the lingering presence of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the supply and distribution delays that resulted, which drove up the prices of raw and finished products.

But this year, partly because of the war in Ukraine, energy and fuel prices have soaredwith gasoline over $5 a gallon and diesel fuel approaching $7 a gallon.

As the rate of inflation rose to percentages not seen since the 1970s, it monopolized daily news stories both locally and across the country. Many feared the dire economic situation would keep vacationers home and negatively affect the Granite State’s financially vital tourism industry.

Oyster week returns to the coast:Here’s what’s planned for the festivities

In Hampton Beach, however, business owners report that while economic factors have presented challenges, overall the summer of 2022 has been incredibly successful.

“I’ll take it,” said Al Fleury, owner of four beach restaurants, as well as a scooter shop, hotel and many rental cabins. “The cost of goods was the main challenge for me. The work was a challenge, but we managed to overcome it. I think we broke records.

Hampton Beach Pelham Hotel owner and Hampton Selectman Chuck Rage agreed.

“We had an amazing time, which helped tremendously,” Rage said. “We certainly had a lot of French-Canadian visitors. They were delighted to be here, and we were delighted to have them.

A large crowd enjoys a hot summer day in Hampton Beach.

The market for Canadian visitors and beach rentals is strong

Rage said that since Canadians come from afar, their visits are often longer, staying a week or more, instead of a few days or weekends. Canadian visitors also tend to buy more than accommodation and meals, he said.

“They’re buying a lot of things: clothes and souvenirs, which is good for retailers,” Rage said.

Fleury said that until they stopped coming to the area at the height of the pandemic shutdown, he underestimated the financial impact Canadian visitors brought with them. The effect of their return this year, however, impressed him.

“The cost of goods was the main challenge for me.  The work was a challenge, but we managed to overcome it," said Al Fleury, owner of four beach restaurants, as well as a scooter shop, a hotel and numerous rental cabins.

Rage found that this year’s visitors came from further afield, from upstate New York, western Connecticut and Rhode Island. Rage, also one of the Hampton Beach Village District Commissioners, thinks Hampton Beach is attracting more people who had headed to “the Jersey Shore” before. He thinks it’s because they consider Hampton Beach to be better value.

After:Hampton community raises $34,000 in three days to help Cinnamon Rainbows surf shop after fire

“New Jersey charges for everything, like going to the beach or seeing sandcastles,” Rage said. “We don’t do that. Here (the Beach Village District) has free concerts every night, free fireworks every Wednesday. We get a good reputation.

Chuck Rage, owner of Pelham Resort and District Commissioner of Hampton Beach Village, explains the importance of Canadian tourism dollars.

Fleury and Preston Reusch, of Preston Real Estate, said beach rentals were strong this year. Reusch said that for the past two years, due to the pandemic, rentals have been a bit off, but that wasn’t the case during the summer of 2022.

“We start booking rentals in February,” Reusch said. “This February, we lined up at the door and on the sidewalk on opening day. Most of our tenants come for seven days, some for two or three weeks. Our largest number of tenants come from Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, a smaller number from New York.

Fleury said the rental weeks of the dozens of beach chalets he rented out were nearly all filled in the spring.

“Everything was rented in May,” Fleury said. “And they all showed up; there were very few cancellations.

An explosive find:A Hampton family found a Civil War artifact in an Exeter river

High gasoline prices have taken their toll

Rage and Fleury expressed the belief that high gasoline prices reduced the number of “day trippers” who normally flock to Hampton Beach on sunny days from nearby locations and then return home at the end of the day.

Fleury said that while he hasn’t crunched all the numbers yet, he won’t be surprised to find that revenue from his lunch restaurants could be a little low, a sign of a reduction in visitors by a day. And by the way, Reusch noticed that vehicular traffic didn’t seem to be as tight this year as it was in pre-pandemic years.

But when it came to last weekend’s seafood fest, Rage thought, “Saturday was one of the best days ever.”

Ready for game day:Wing-Itz in Hampton Unveils New Outdoor Patio

People walk and peek at merchandise in Hampton Beach on Wednesday, September 14, 2022.

A good season, but not smooth sailing

By far, Fleury and Rage said inflation and the higher cost of goods and services needed to run businesses were the biggest economic factors facing employers this summer.

“Work, food, energy; it’s hard,” Rage said. “Everything is in place.”

Fleury, who will open his ninth business in Newburyport in October, added that the solution to inflation and rising supply costs is not simply to pass on all increases directly to customers. If costs rise too much, consumers stay away and the bottom line suffers, but if they aren’t raised enough, profits can disappear.

“The challenge is finding the right balance between what can be passed on to consumers and what a company absorbs,” Fleury said.

As for finding enough responsible summer workers in the state with only 2.2% unemployment, it’s been a battle for years, because there aren’t enough working-age students left to fill all the openings.

But two programs attract workers from far outside the region, and they have proven to be of great help in the tight labor market.

“Manpower was a problem, but we managed to replenish it,” Fleury said. “The J-1 visa program is the most important work program for us.”

A federal program overseen by the U.S. Department of State, the J-1 Visa program offers educational work exchanges to foreign students from outside the United States who come here for a variety of temporary opportunities, such as work in the tourism industry, as well as many others.

Fleury said most of the JI Visa students he employs are from Eastern Europe and they are some of the best temporary workers he employs every summer.

“They present themselves; they stay and they come on time and they work hard,” Fleury said. “Saturday I sat down to talk with one of my bartenders from the program. He is in his final year of law school at home. He said he liked the break that coming here gave him.

Rage also annually praises the benefits and importance of the J-1 visa program to the Hampton Beach business community.

King Hampton Beach Tee:Meet the man behind the five clothing stores on the boulevard

Hampton Beach businesses were able to add between 250 and 300 international students to their labor pool in the years leading up to the pandemic, but in the past two years there have been problems bringing them into the country in due to restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A little girl crawls on a stool while she and her mom eat ice cream on a hot Hampton Beach afternoon on Wednesday.

This spring, alongside the J-1 Visa program, the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce and New Hampshire State Parks has partnered with the nonprofit One Spirit to bring young Native Americans to Hampton Beach.

In a pilot program which took place for the first time this summerHouse Speaker John Nyhan said in March that the plan calls for a dozen Ogalala Lakota tribesmen, ages 18 to 25, from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, to work in beach businesses for the season starting in May.

Rage said the One Spirt partnership helped this summer.

But, with students already back in class and J-1 Visa and One Spirit workers beginning to return home, like most Granite State employers, work is once again becoming a very difficult problem for landlords to solve. Hampton Beach corporate outlets that are open year-round.