OCEAN CITY – The crowds certainly poured into town this past holiday weekend, filling the beach, hotels and restaurants, but whether the banner weekend is a forecast for the rest of the season remains to be seen.
The Fourth of July fell on a Friday this year, raising hopes in the resort for a banner holiday weekend. Having the holiday fall on a Friday meant an extra day of vacation time for tourists and an extra day of business for the resort.
Several resort officials and business owners predicted a strong holiday weekend last week, remaining optimistic that with the help of good weather, the crowds would abound.
Although the weather put a damper on some of the weekend festivities, in particular the Friday night fireworks, which were set off an hour early due to a looming storm, the crowds stayed strong all weekend.
According to the town’s demoflush estimates, 326,249 people were in town Saturday and Sunday, with 344,756 people in town on Friday, the Fourth.
The last time the Fourth of July fell on a Friday was in 2003, which is marked as one of the strongest Fourth of July weekends ever. In 2003, 340,344 people came to town on Friday, the Fourth, with an average of 342,352 people on Saturday and Sunday.
Demoflush numbers would reflect that the ideal day for the Fourth of July is on a Sunday. In 2004, the Fourth fell on a Sunday and saw 345,671 people in town on that day.
Last year the Fourth fell on a Wednesday, and although the mid-week holiday provided businesses with the opportunity for two strong weekends, the first weekend in July remained fairly low with 300,333 people.
With crowds coming in strong this past weekend and the weather cooperating for most the part, businesses enjoyed the anticipated banner weekend.
“It was good, I think we definitely saw some good numbers this past weekend,” said Ocean City Public Relations Director Donna Abbott.
“The crowds really were here, they were enjoying a great weekend,” said Mayor Rick Meehan at Monday night’s council meeting.
Ocean City Hotel-Motel Restaurant Association (OCHMRA) Executive Director Susan Jones also reported a strong weekend.
“With the Fourth falling on a Friday, it was a given that it would be a busy weekend,” she said.
Jones noted that both the hotels and restaurants saw a solid weekend, with big crowds on Friday and Saturday.
“Everyone was really thrilled. They were definitely happy with Friday and Saturday, it was a nice push,” she reported.
Doug Buxbaum, owner of Buxy’s Salty Dog Saloon on 28th Street, also reported a strong weekend with crowds staying through Sunday.
“It was a banner weekend. It was one of the best Fourth’s ever, actually it was the best Fourth of July we’ve had,” he said.
Like most business owners, Buxbaum was unsure of what the weekend would bring.
“We were a little apprehensive in expecting it, hoping for the best but expecting the worst,” he said.
The best came through for Buxy’s however. “It turned out to be an excellent weekend,” he said, adding that it was the first weekend he saw crowds staying strong through Sunday and even through the next week. “We’re going strong, it’s right where we want to be.”
In West Ocean City, business was booming as well at the Bull on the Beach. Philip Houck reported a strong weekend that fell in line with what is typically expected of the popular holiday.
“Of course, you always hope for more, but it was a good weekend,” said Houck.
Business in Ocean Pines was steady as well, with the Fourth kicking off a strong summer for The Steer Inn Tavern, located on Route 589. Owner Skip McGarry reported a banner weekend, starting as early as Wednesday.
“We were slammed, it was better than we expected,” said McGarry. “For us, we were busy from Wednesday on and ever since then we’ve been really busy.”
As one of the new businesses in the area, McGarry was thrilled with the holiday and looks forward to an equally strong summer.
“Since we’re a new business we’ve really got one way to go, up,” he said. “It’s been real good for us so far.”
Although the holiday was successful in bringing crowds and business to the resort, uncertainty regarding the summer season remains.
“It may be the highlight to the summer, yes,” said Jones of this past weekend.
Jones said vacation trends this summer are showing people staying just one to two nights, mostly on weekends.
“I think it’s going to be a weekend thing from now on,” agreed Houck, predicting Thursday through Sunday crowds. “I don’t know if it’s the gas prices or the overall cost of everything.”
With July well underway, Houck is hoping for a strong July and first half of August, explaining that with schools going back so early, the end of August and Labor Day aren’t as strong as they once were.
“The gas prices are definitely hurting that extra night stay,” said Buxbaum.
Despite gloomy economic predictions, Buxbaum remains hopeful that the summer will be strong.
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed. We’re looking forward to a great summer,” he said.
The OCHMRA is working hard to spread the word on vacation values and keep people coming to town.
“People are still looking for the deal,” said Jones.
According to Jones, promotions and deals have been key this year. A promotions button added to the organization’s website this year has been a hot button for visitors to the site, she reported, with vacationers eager to find the best option for a tight budget.
Gas deals, vacation values and the one-week wonder packages are just a few of the promotions being offered right now through the OCHMRA. A “Summer Dates at Fall Rates” campaign will keep deals going through the end of August and September.
Despite the deals, Jones is seeing a decrease in some areas. The Starpower Competition, held July 20-25, is typically a strong weekend for hotels, said Jones, but so far this year the numbers are down.
“I have a lot of hotels that used to fill up and they’re not even close,” she said.