LOWER TOWNSHIP - The picturesque surroundings near Sunset Beach include the half-sunken USS Atlantus concrete ship, a World War II observation tower, the natural beauties of the Delaware Bay, and a view of the Cape May Lighthouse in the distance.
And in the middle of it is the Shops at Sunset Beach, a 2-acre complex of gifts shops, a miniature golf course and a grill - a family business long part of the local landscape.
"We believe (in) all of Cape May County and the millions of dollars it brings to our economy here, tourism is everything," said Larry Hume, 54, of the Cold Spring section of the township, who owns the business with his wife, Michele. "We feel Sunset Beach is another destination within a destination."
Hume's family bought the property in 1973. Over the years, it has transformed into a unique retail area at the foot of Sunset Boulevard, including a large gift store and a rock and mineral shop.
In 2007, the business opened an 18-hole miniature golf course, with views of the Delaware Bay from the greens.
"We don't take it for granted where we come to work. The surroundings and the people make it worth it," he said.
Earlier this year, travel website TripAdvisor ranked Sunset Beach among its top 25 beaches in the United States, placing it alongside a list of beaches in Florida, Hawaii and California.
Summer is a busy time at the business, which caters to a strong tourist population. The gift shop is open year-round. The business reduces its days to four per week in the first six weeks of the year.
This is a period when many trade shows are taking place, and when the Humes are selecting their merchandise to sell the following year.
Selecting products is a key component of running the business.
"There's a lot riding on that," Hume said. "If you make too many bad decisions, it can really affect your whole year."
Michele Hume said many tourists are repeat customers.
Last year, tourism was a $5 billion industry in Cape May County, and it has long been the region's economic backbone.
Bringing those tourists back year after year is another important facet of the Lower Township business.
"With all the big box competition today, the advantage the smaller, independent retailers always have is super personal customer service," Larry Hume said.
"My sister one time made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a girl because there was nothing at the grill she liked," he said. "Literally the mom said, 'My daughter just likes PB and J,' and my sister went upstairs and made her a PB&J sandwich from our personal kitchen."
He continued, "Anyone who walks through the door, I want them to feel like they walked into grandma's house on a holiday."
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