For the last 18 years, Jeff Gamble's summer camps have filled up on the first day of registration in February, months before the two camps are scheduled to start.
But this year, enrollment was so low for Jefunira, "a play-based camp," that he had to shut down the Mountain View program, and is only operating the one in Palo Alto this summer.
"For much of our business life we have been able to run at full capacity with a surplus. This summer we are not seeing that," Gamble said.
Many local camp organizers have similar stories this year, and say that enrollment is down due to the tough economic climate. Parents have lost their jobs, or are uncertain about the future, and do not want to spend money on camp for their kids.
Summer camp, it turns out, was considered a luxury by many Peninsula parents, especially those who don't require daycare or supervision for their children during the summer. At Jefunira, which costs $800 for a two-week session, enrollment was down 45 percent in Palo Alto and 65 percent in Mountain View, Gamble said.
Camp enrollment is also down at the Community School of Music and Arts, but "The effect on us has not been as dramatic as we thought," spokesperson Evy Schiffman said.
She said some employees at the Mountain View nonprofit were caught off guard last January, when sign-ups began. "In the old days, it would be January and the phones were ringing," Schiffman said, but this year interest in the camps seemed to have dropped off.
Schiffman noted that as summer continues, and parents have a better idea of their finances for the next few months, camp enrollment is increasing. Overall, however, enrollment remains low.
Many parents are only sending their kids to one camp instead of enrolling them for the whole summer, said Gamble, who added that his numbers too are slowly picking up. Now into his third session of camp, he said that for the first time all summer he has reached almost full capacity.
"I was biting my nails three weeks before the summer, wondering what we were going to do," he said.
Even as some camps struggle to keep up enrollment, other part-time and educational camps are still seeing a high turnout.
Saint Francis High School, which offers academic programs for middle and high school students, is seeing normal enrollment this year with 2,000 students signed up for the summer, according to spokesperson Holly Elkins.
She believes the academic programs, some of which come with actual school credits, help explain the high enrollment. The prices are relatively low as well: It costs $350 for seventh graders to attend a part-time program for two weeks.
"Our programs offer our families a chance to try out the school for a cheaper price," Elkins said.
Also, as public schools cut back on extracurricular classes to save money, students have fewer chances to take classes like ceramics. "Their children aren't having the opportunity during the school year," Elkins said.