OCEAN CITY -- Forget Memorial Day. Forget June. The true barometer on whether the resort's summer season fizzles or sizzles rests on the hundreds of thousands of vacationers expected this holiday weekend.
Merchants and hoteliers here are optimistic. The weather and the fireworks display -- simultaneously over the bay and ocean -- are in their favor.
With school out and vacations on tap, tourism officials expect about 350,000 people over the three-day weekend. Typically, about 330,000 beachgoers visit the resort over the holiday.
"The Fourth is almost always one of the busiest and biggest weekends of the year," said Leslie Craigle, a tourism spokeswoman.
But there is an undercurrent to the sunny optimism. The Ku Klux Klan's plan to pass out its political literature on the boardwalk at Worcester Street tomorrow has caused some cringing.
"With all the emphasis on family here, that isn't something that is going to enhance that image," said the owner of a small market off the boardwalk, declining to give her name. "But I guess it's something that we have to live with."
As part of a statewide membership drive, the white supremacist group has registered with the town to spend about an hour on the boardwalk, said Carol Quillen, an administrative secretary for Ocean City.
"We want people to meet the Klan of the '90s," said Chester Doles, Maryland's grand klaliff. "We went back to the drawing board, and we want people to know we're strictly a non-violent, pro-white political group. Politics is where it's at."
Other business owners declined to comment or said they didn't expect the group's presence to affect business. It's been a topic of conversation for many, however.
"Personally, I don't want them here, but there's nothing I can do about it," said the manager of a fast-food stand on the boardwalk, who also declined to be identified.
James Purnell Jr., president of the Worcester County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said his group also planned to ignore the KKK.
"We're definitely going to stay away," Mr. Purnell said. "If tourists ignore them, the Klan won't stay on the boardwalk more than 20 minutes."
A crew from the TV show "America's Funniest People" also will be in town today and tomorrow, filming a special Fourth of July segment at the beach at the Princess Royale Hotel and the pier near the inlet.
Patriotism and politics may be on tap this weekend, but it's clear most restaurant, motel and shop owners have business foremost on their minds.
"The next couple of weeks are really important," said Mary Tawney of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel Restaurant Association Inc. "We'll see whether the weather or the economy has kept people away."
So far, most have blamed the cool, rainy weather for keeping droves of tourists away throughout the spring and early summer.
"People love to come to the beach on the Fourth of July," said Martha O. Clements, a tourism spokeswoman for Ocean City.
"It looks like we have a very good weekend ahead of us," said Adam Showell, an owner and general manager of the Castle in the Sand motel. "Things have picked up. The change in the weather has really been important to us."
Although nearly all rooms were booked for today and tomorrow, Mr. Showell said the motel had vacancies for Sunday.
"There's always rooms available in Ocean City," he said. "Sometimes it means making a couple of calls, but the rooms are there."