Are People Talking Behind Your Back at the Beach?

ByJEN BROWN via via logo

July 22, 2005 — -- They are called different names in different areas of the country.

In Southern California they are "Zonies," in South Jersey they are "Shoebies" and in Bradley Beach, N.J., the focus of's "By the Boardwalk" series, they are called "Bennies."

Are you one of them?

If you do not live by a beach, but have ever been to one between Memorial and Labor Day, you belong to that large portion of the population locals love to hate: "summer people."

"A Benny is someone who's not a local from New York, with a New York/northern New Jersey attitude," said Brian Phillips, a radio jock on the popular Jersey Shore alternative rock station, G106.3. "It elicits quite the response. Every time that subject is brought up, the phone lines light up."

(Phillips himself commutes an hour from northern Jersey to the Jersey Shore each day for work, but in a debate with his listeners, it was determined he is not a Benny because he contributes to traffic congestion year round.)

There are many different theories about the origins of the world "Benny." Phillips heard it started because people from New York would come down and spend a lot of money, or "benjamins." Bradley Beach Mayor Stephen Schueler heard the word came from boats owned by a guy named Benny that people would rent in the summer. The lifeguards at Bradley Beach believe Benny is an acronym for Bayonne, Elizabeth, Newark and New York, cities close enough to the Shore that many people drive down for the day.

According to local lore it should be easy to spot a Benny on the beach. Just look for the guy wearing white sneakers, black socks, a tight T-shirt and gold chains. He'll be carrying a boogie board, posing for pictures with his equally pale friends and maybe even pumping his fists in the air to the beat of the hottest dance club tune.

Bennies get blamed for traffic, lack of parking, cover charges in bars and long lines in bagel stores.

"Locals are most offended because it gets so crowded on the Jersey Shore and they don't have access to their own back yard," Phillips said.

But no one can dispute that Bennies are great for business.

In 2003, travel and tourism in New Jersey brought in $20 billion -- equal to 5.4 percent of the state's total economic production -- and created more than 415,900 jobs, according to New Jersey Travel and Tourism.

"For businesses, it is crucial," Schueler said. "It fuels everything. It's the beach, it's Main Street and the town's really alive."

The Benny population has changed over the years in Bradley Beach, as more people buy property rather than rent and the same out-of-towners return each summer.

"I was a super Benny because I was from New York City," said John Nanzzana of Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, N.Y. "But a lot of people who used to be Bennies moved down here because they liked it so much. And a lot of people have been coming down here for so many years, you can't tell anymore."

"We're local Bennies," said Mikey Kretzer, 20, who has come down to the beach every summer since she was born and is a Bradley Beach lifeguard. "You don't want to be called a Benny; they can be rude sometimes."

Even if some Bennies rub locals the wrong way, locals can blame Bennies for problems they don't create, but the one thing everyone seems to share is a sense of humor about the whole thing.

The local newspaper has a "Benny or not a Benny" game each week in which readers try to guess who's a local and who's not based on a picture. A popular song on G106.3 is "Seaside Tony and Coffee" by the 7minds, which parodies Bennies.

But the Bennies strike right back. The Kretzer family has proclaimed itself part of the "Benny Brigade," and the group is so incorporated into the community it even marches in the local Memorial Day Parade.

"We embrace being Bennies," said Anna Kretzer, Mikey's mom. "We're happy to be Bennies and I also own property here and a number of our friends are long-term residents. We're in the middle spot of being a summer person and also being part of the community."

Anna Kretzer admits when she first started summering on the Shore 26 years ago she didn't blend into the community as well.

"We were young and single," she said. "We came down to party and have fun and probably played loud music until all hours of the night."

Now Kretzer and her friends just shake their heads when they see young, loud kids who are obviously summer people driving down the street.

"My husband and I joke about it," Kretzer said. "We'll see people who come down for a week or two and we say, 'Oh, these Bennies are killing this place!' "

Note: Jen Brown was a Bradley Beach lifeguard in a former life.

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