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Fourth: big crowds, little storm

(July 11, 2014) Despite threats from a hurricane passing offshore, Independence Day brought a flagship weekend for businesses in Ocean City.

Visitors flock by the thousands on the Boardwalk during the Fourth of July holiday last weekend. (Lisa Capitelli | Ocean City Today)

“It was one for the record books. I have never seen so many cars, so many people coming in to Ocean City,” said Annemarie Dickerson, owner of the Francis Scott Key Family Resort in West Ocean City.

Forecasts calling for stormy weather as Hurricane Arthur traveled up  the coast might have thwarted vacation plans for some, but the storm only brought rain Friday morning followed by an ideal beach weekend.

Hotels across the resort filled their rooms for the long weekend, said Susan Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association.

“It was about 95 percent full” across HMRA members, she said. “There were people leading up to the weekend who were calling who were very concerned about the weather. I did hear of a few cancellations, but only a handful. I think they filled everything that was canceled.”

“It was a fabulous weekend,” Jones said. “The gorgeous temperatures and weather Saturday and Sunday helped.”

In all, there were 249,431 people in town over the weekend, according to the city’s Demoflush statistics that use wastewater usage to estimate the city’s population. Last year, the number was slightly higher at 256,950.

“A lot of people were really worried about the impact of Hurricane Arthur and the potential it was going to have to keep people from the beach, but we didn’t experience any of that. We had really great crowds,” said Jessica Waters, communications manager for the Town of Ocean City.

“It was a little windy… but other than that the weekend was perfect,” Waters said. “I think everyone took advantage of the fact that once the storm passed, it was beautiful weekend.”

Crowds enjoyed uptown and downtown fireworks shows, which were delayed until Saturday, July 5 due to the weather. The downtown concert by Frankie & The Pack also took place July 5, marking the inaugural performance on the new Caroline Street stage, which Mayor Rick Meehan attended.

With so many visitors in town, business was “fantastic” at Macky’s Bayside Bar & Grill on 53rd Street, Manager Kristy Baraniak said.

“It was a really great weekend with lots of kids, a lot of families,” she said. “The Fourth of July’s been in the middle of the week instead of on a weekend the last seven years. I think we were a little busier than last year just because of that.”

After cool temperatures and rainy skies slowed the start to the 2013 tourist season, this summer has been going “very well,” she said.

“The weather’s been awesome so we’ve been nice and busy,” said Baraniak. “Since it was such a bad winter, I think a lot of people are ready to get outside.”

Downtown on the Boardwalk, the Frog Bar saw a similar boost in foot traffic.

“Friday morning was very slow because of the rain, but Friday afternoon and Friday night were really nice,” Owner Delmar Smith said. “Saturday was a really, really busy day. Sunday was good as well and so was Monday.

“It was along the lines of Cruisers weekend — it was good,” Smith said.

Business at the Frog Bar has been going well this summer overall thanks to clear skies and warm weather, he said.

There was a “really big increase in traffic” starting about three weeks ago — a trend he hopes will continue through the season, Smith said.

Dickerson agreed that weekend traffic to the resort has been strong this year, but recalled holidays in the past when the Francis Scott Key booked out for a week on either end of a three-day weekend.

“Friday and Saturday were very strong. I just would like to see us grow that from a three-day weekend to how it used to be when we could get folks to stay for the entire week,” she said. “We had strong numbers, but we didn’t book out the entire week… I’m hoping that’s something that we are going to be able to collectively change in the future.”

Still, she said, “I couldn’t be happier.”

Occupancy at the hotel was at 100 percent for the long weekend and across the resort’s diner, bars, concession stand and hotel, “it was the best number’s we’ve ever pulled in,” Dickerson said.

“If we can keep these numbers up, I think we’re going to have one for the records,” she said of the summer.

But as always, business hangs on the weather.

“That’s pretty much the only thing that ever hurts us, is the weather,” Baraniak said. “I just hope that it stays the same — that we don’t get any tropical storms or hurricanes or rain.”

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