OCEAN CITY — It was boom, boom, fizzle and finally boom again on Fourth of July weekend in the resort, starting with a couple of sunny days, followed by a period of dreary gray weather in the middle and reaching a crescendo with an epic fireworks display as planned on Monday night.
The Fourth of July weekend is traditionally one of the highlights of the summer season and a kick-off of sorts for the dog days that follow and this year was no different. Last Friday and Saturday were near perfect in terms of weather and the crowds arriving in the resort built steadily through the end of last week. For practically as long as there has been an Ocean City, the virtues of a Fourth of July on or near the weekend as opposed to a mid-week Fourth have been debated, and with the holiday falling on a Monday this year, the prospect of a stellar four-day stretch was anticipated.
It delivered for the most part with big crowds all weekend, and while traffic was heavy throughout the four days, it never really backed up and grinded to a halt as it has on bygone Fourth of July weekends. By Sunday, a front moved through bringing clouds and off-and-on drizzle and the pattern continued on Monday, the actual Fourth, putting the annual fireworks spectaculars in doubt.
However, despite the less than stellar conditions throughout the day on Monday, a window of opportunity opened on Monday night and the town-sponsored fireworks displays went off as planned to rave reviews at the Inlet and at Northside Park.
Ocean City Communications Director Jessica Waters said this week the holiday weekend was a strong one despite the weather on the back end.
“We had an incredible Fourth of July weekend,” she said. “The weather on Saturday was picture-perfect for the beach and Boardwalk. It was wonderful to see a crowded beach full of families having fun in the sun. The July 4th holiday is typically our busiest weekend of the year and judging by the traffic and crowds on the beach and Boardwalk it certainly felt that way.”
Waters said the hundreds of thousands of visitors found alternatives on the dreary Sunday and Monday of the holiday weekend.
“The weather on Sunday put a damper on things but I was thrilled to see families sticking it out through the gray clouds and making the best of the beach, rain or shine,” she said. “The gloomy weather also made for a great shopping day. I know many families opted to spend the day delighting in our businesses, shopping and enjoying a bite to eat, which is always great to see.”
Waters said she believes Ocean City has one of the most incredible fireworks displays in the region with entertainment and patriotic music that vibrates through the air. She said resort officials kept their fingers crossed through the weekend that the spectacle would go off as planned.
“The town’s emergency services and special events departments had been monitoring the weather for several days leading up to the event,” she said. “With daily calls to the National Weather Service, the staff was confident that we could continue with the show as planned because the weather pattern was expected to be out of our area before the start of the show. It’s a hard decision to make because there are so many operational aspects that go along with postponing the event that we believed moving forward with the expected forecast was the right thing to do. The weather was less than ideal, but the outcome of the celebration was magical.”
Mayor Rick Meehan agreed, pointing out on Tuesday the decision to move forward with the Monday fireworks plan was the right one.
“The weather wasn’t our friend this weekend, but with a little luck, we got a nice little window right around 9:30 and the fireworks went off as planned and they were spectacular,” he said. “I could tell from the cheers from the crowd the fireworks were extra special this year.”
From a business standpoint, the four-day holiday weekend was a strong one by most accounts. Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Executive Director Susan Jones said there were some vacancies and some visitors checked out later in the weekend when the weather took a turn for the worse, but her membership generally reported a strong weekend.
“Judging from the traffic, I think there was definitely a large influx of people,” she said. “Many of the hotels and motels sold out on Saturday and Sunday, but as you know, we are truly a weather-dependent resort so there was still some availability. Hotels did see a lot of early check-outs on Monday.”
While some weather-dependent businesses took a hit later in the weekend, others thrived despite the forecast, according to Jones.
“The restaurants tend to do very well when it rains or is cloudy, so they had a fantastic weekend,” she said. “Now that we are going into a heat wave, things should be headed in the right direction.”
Jay Bosley, a partner in de Lazy Lizard downtown, Dead Freddies in mid-town and the new Parched Pelican uptown, said the weekend was a strong one for all of the restaurants.
“We were thankful that the holiday weekend was strong for all locations,” he said. “It was great to see the town fill up, the sun shine and all of the businesses in the town buzzing.”
Although each of the restaurants relies partially on outdoor seating and kids entertainment areas, Bosley said some off-season changes to at least one — de Lazy Lizard — helped make the weather hit less significant.
“The Lizard had significant improvements made over the winter and spring, including a completely-renovated indoor dining area that is jumping when it rains. The marina was just dredged and finger piers were added to accommodate those who arrive by boat to dine and it fills up when the sun is shining,” Bosley said. “With the new indoor renovations, we believe that it is becoming a great rainy day destination and that helped keep sales strong throughout the whole holiday weekend, even with the rain at the end.”
Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melanie Pursel said she polled her membership and found most reporting a strong holiday weekend.
“From those I spoke to, business was excellent,” she said. “There were great crowds on the beach and the boards were packed with lots of nice families and just an overall amazing weekend. We were thrilled the fireworks went off on schedule and were spectacular. Of course, the weather was not perfect, but I don’t think it hindered business.”
From a public safety standpoint, the holiday weekend was relatively calm despite the crowds. The OCPD was certainly active with hundreds of calls handled but no major incidents. Out on the beach, Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin said his crews were prepared for a busy weekend of rescues and other interactions with visitors, but the poor weather kept many of his traditional holiday statistics down.
“We were all geared up for a typical Fourth,” he said. “However, except for Saturday, the weather kept the crowds on the beach down. On Saturday, we handled 22 lost and found individuals and expected those numbers to reach close to 100 on a typical Fourth, but we only had seven on Sunday and again on Monday. All other statistics were also well below our average. It was one of the quietest Fourth of July’s I can remember.”
Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) spokesperson Candy Thomson said there was plenty of activity out on the water, but statistically it was pretty calm in and around the resort area. For example, over the four-day weekend, NRP officers made contact with 1,867 anglers, boaters and state park visitors, conducted 209 boating safety checks, handled two boating accidents, made three operating under the influence (OUI) arrests, issued 49 citations and 138 warnings and made two criminal arrests.
By comparison, last Fourth of July weekend around Ocean City and Worcester County, the NRP made contact with 2,807 anglers, boaters and state park visitors, conducted 270 boating safety checks, handled one boating accident and made two OUI arrests. NRP officers last year issued 60 citations and 99 warnings and made three criminal arrests.