Umbrellas come loose on the beach every day and at least once a summer a visitor is injured. It’s a shame, but even on the calmest of wind days the cheap umbrellas, which are not made for the beach, blow around the beach and become dangerous.
What made last weekend’s situation so unique was it involved a rental umbrella. There may be a learning opportunity here for beach stand operators to consider. The umbrellas should be down while not rented.
It’s a daily morning occurrence to see a line of umbrellas opened along the prime beach spots close to the water reserving the best sites for potential customers. It’s a sales thing because it reserves an area near the water’s edge. It makes sense, but last weekend’s situation confirms a flaw in the practice.
Beach stand operators pay prime money for their street locations in Ocean City. They have a short window to earn back the fees paid to the town, cover expenses and record a profit. It’s a tough business and one that has changed markedly over the years as a result of more people bringing their own gear, which was bought at discounted prices elsewhere.
Given these operators have the right to position themselves in the best possible fashion possible, a better approach may be to keep those umbrellas upright in those prime spots but closed. One of the witnesses quoted in the article this week on the incident recalled how emotionally shaken the beach stand operator was after the Pennsylvania woman was impaled by an umbrella she set. Any changes to avoid those sorts of situations for the victim as well as the young woman in charge of the umbrellas would seem worthy of the effort.
I remember well my first meeting the first summer after graduating from college back in 1997. It was with our founding publisher, Dick Lohmeyer, who had a standing assignment for me each week during the summer months. I had to do a crowd story and a weather story every week. “Crowds and weather, those are the stories people want to read,” I remember him saying over and over again.
For some issues, it was easy. For other weeks, especially after the first couple months of searching for new and remotely interesting story ideas, it was incredibly challenging. On more than one occasion, stories were returned to me with a huge blue “x” throughout the copy, signaling it was garbage and to start over again. You would have to know Lohmeyer and his unique way of communicating to appreciate that.
I remember well weeks like this past one where rain was in the forecast every single day. I would struggle with both the crowd and weather stories. Most of the time I would just leave the office and drive around, walking into arcades, retail stores, hotels and bars seeking out stories and inspiration to write about.
The weather is always the main story here because it’s the single biggest influence on the crowds. Without great weather, the people do not come. Sure, there are some vacationers who will keep their plans no matter the weather. However, there are other savvy consumers who will cancel their intentions if they see poor weather in the extended forecast.
That’s why the meteorologists hold a lot of power. Last weekend is a good example. Saturday was a complete washout, but Sunday was beautiful. The forecasters nailed Saturday but whiffed on Sunday. The beach on Sunday in most areas looked more like fall as a result. The Boardwalk was practically empty Sunday night.
Although rainfall totals for June and July in Ocean City are only slightly above the monthly average, the perception is the weather has not cooperated for most of the summer. This has resulted in a feeling the crowds have been lighter than usual. There appears to something to that, according to an informal poll of long-time Ocean City property owners and business owners. The sentiment is the rain has come at the worst possible times, such as on the weekends.
The good news is there’s still five weeks left before Labor Day weekend and with some cooperation from Mother Nature the crowds should pick up around here.