OCEAN CITY – Despite a few proverbial and a few very literal bumps in the road, Crusin’ weekend coasted into the Ocean City record books and helped the town pick up speed as it turns the final corner into the summer season.
According to demoflush numbers, based on wastewater flow and calculated by the Ocean City Public Relations Office, more than 230,000 visited Ocean City last weekend, making it the highest attended Cruisin’ weekend since numbers were recorded in 1992, usurping last year’s total, which was just over 200,000.
Those in the business community, and at City Hall, who look at numbers as the true way to gauge success, were encouraged to embrace a bit of optimism as Ocean City seemingly cruised its way into Memorial Day weekend after enjoying its best April on record and an impressive start to the month of May.
“We are very encouraged by these numbers,” said City Manager Dennis Dare, “and a lot of the numbers we track, everything from demoflush to parking meter revenue has been really solid so far in April and May.”
Dare said that parking revenue was up 75 percent in the month of April at the Inlet parking lot alone and saw slight jumps in revenue from street meters and other town-owned parking lots.
For most in the business community, Cruisin’ weekend serves as the prelude for what is to come in the peak season, and at others like Hooters in uptown Ocean City, it’s an annual record breaker.
“We had another record weekend,” said Hooters of Ocean City General Manager Matthew J. Ortt. “We welcomed over 5,300 people through our doors and broke our record from last year by 7 percent.”
However, not everyone was happy with Cruisin’ this year, and ironically, it was some of the “cruisers” themselves that were displeased, though much of the unhappiness was directed at the State Highway Administration’s Route 50 roadwork.
“We took a lot of heat about (the roadwork) at the registration table this year,” said Crusin’ organizer Bob Rothermel. “It is really disconcerting to try and draw people who spend thousands of dollars to restore these vehicles, and then they drive through construction sites and have stones kicked up on their cars.”
Rothermel, who along with Jack Hennan started the Cruisin’ event in 1991, which was the same year as the inaugural Springfest, said that 3,100 cars were registered for the annual event, making it a sell out once again.
“It’s been sold out for many years, and every year, we sell out earlier and earlier,” said Rothermel, “but I’m not really sure how to fix the fact that there seems to be roadwork every year during our event, but the mayor has pledged his support to help us.”
Throughout the event, huge backups stretched into West Ocean City as thousands of vintage cars tried to enter the Route 50 gateway into the resort’s town limits, and Rothermel said despite the construction, the town and organizers tried to be as helpful as possible.
“We did everything we could to try to mitigate some of the traffic congestion, but the facts are facts, and it was a problem,” he said.
Usually the weekends before and after big holiday weekends are on the slow side in Ocean City, and Rothermel noted that the Cruisin’ event is just one of the important events that provides a proverbial shot in the arm to local businesses.
“It went from a nothing weekend to one that for some businesses is comparable to July Fourth weekend,” said Rothermel. “We have to stop thinking that Memorial Day is the official start to the season, and that other than Springfest, there’s nothing in May to look forward to. Overall, we are pleased with the turnout, and it just goes to show how important special events are to draw people and business to the town of Ocean City.”
Mayor Rick Meehan said that he had spoken with some representatives from the SHA on Thursday and they halted roadwork on Friday to help ease the traffic woes for the cruisers over the course of the weekend. He said that in the future, the best way to avoid unfortunate situations like this was to do plan in advance.
“It’s a timing thing, because there are certain windows in the spring that allow the SHA to get their projects done,” said Meehan, “but what we need to do next year, as Crusin’ is already scheduled, is to have the calendar of events in front of us when the SHA comes before the council in the fall and the spring to pitch their projects.”
Meehan said that the necessary work required to be done to Route 50 created an unfortunate “catch 22” for Cruisin’ weekend, and conceded that oftentimes, when some events are planned, and overlapping and perhaps conflicting projects are booked, the aforementioned event is unfortunately “out of sight, out of mind.”
Rothermel said the event, which has seen an increase in attendance almost every year since its inception, “mirrors the explosion of interest in Nascar,” citing that interest in true automotive events is booming.
“Crusin’ weekend used to be at the same time every year as Springfest, and it’s grown so much that it was absolutely necessary for it to go off on its own,” said Rothermel.