Despite summer's unseasonable weather, local merchants say tourism was solid this year.

Despite this summer's unseasonable weather, local merchants say tourism was solid this year.

“I really expected things to not be as good as last year,” said Jean Socha, the manager of the Seaward Inn in Sneads Ferry. “A lot of people were talking about cutting vacations and staying home. We did the same as last year, which overall is fantastic.”

Hotels, beach rentals and retail stores said while 2013 was not exactly a record-breaking year, all-in-all it was successful — despite the weather and economy. Onslow County has had 18 to 25 inches of rain since May according to the National Weather Service, and the national unemployment rate averaged 7.5 percent, which is down from last year’s 8.2.

“This was the second-best year we’ve had in the last five years,” Socha said. “People really like our area because it’s family orientated. We need to keep things fresh and new rather than building up, and I’m sure people will continue to come here and recommend us to friends and family.”

Part of the strategy to attract tourists, according to Socha, was coming up with rainy-day ideas for people visiting the beach.

For managers like Nick Longo, of Bert’s Surf Shop in Surf City, it was more than just the economy and the weather that led to a “less than desired” summer.

“Everybody and their brother is opening up a surf shop on the island,” said Longo of Surf City. “The abundance of surf shops is hurting our business because you can get the same thing everywhere. There’s too many stores in such a little area.”

The competition, economy and weather combined to create a perfect storm of challenges for the surf shop. Longo said it wasn’t the worst summer they’ve had, but it did seem as though more people are spending less money which has resulted in him having more bad weeks than good ones.

“It all started in the spring,” Longo said. “It seems like it was cold the whole time. With spring break, we didn’t see the business we thought we would, and that carried all the way through the summer.”

The weeks with little to no rain were among their most productive, but Longo said he feels as though people are spending more time with family opposed to spending money.

Up on Bogue Banks, Emerald Isle Realty had a more than 95-percent occupancy rate for one of its best years to date, according to Sabrina Hylton.

“We surpassed last year,” said Hylton, whose company has been on the beach for more than 50 years. “Monetarily we’ve exceeded our expectations for this year. It was all thanks to more families bringing more people. It’s something we haven’t seen in the past.”

While rain was a challenge, the one thing North Carolina had going for it was a hurricane-free season so far. Without that threat, people were drawn to the coast and local businesses benefited from that, Hylton said, adding that she doesn’t expect things to slow down until October.

“Now that school is back in session and people are back to work, we’re gearing up for all of our good fishing buddies to come and see us,” Hylton said. “That should keep the local economy going for a little while longer.”