Resort finds its place in the sun Dry summer helps Ocean City thrive

September 06, 1993|By Audrey Haar and James Bock | Audrey Haar and James Bock,Staff Writers

OCEAN CITY -- The weather was so favorable for beach-goers at Maryland's premier resort town this summer that Surf Side Pizza advertised deliveries direct to the sand.

"We wished it would have rained more," said Paul Callahan, a partner in the 33rd Street restaurant. He said rainy weather translates into more sit-down meals and delivery orders.

Few Ocean City businesspeople shared Mr. Callahan's gripe about the weather in the summer season that winds down today along the boardwalk. It was one of the best summers in several years, hoteliers, real estate agents and resort officials say.

The same summer weather that has meant drought for Eastern Shore farmers helped Ocean City fill its hotels, condominiums, restaurants and beaches week after week.

By most measures -- parking meter receipts, numbers of bus riders, room-tax collections and tons of trash picked up -- Ocean City has been considerably more crowded this summer than it was last year, said Martha J. Bennett, city finance director.

"It's going to go down in the history of Ocean City as one of the best summer seasons we've ever had, with so much good weather," said Mayor Roland E. "Fish" Powell. "There's been no rainy weekends since early spring."

"Rental bookings are up 20 percent," said James Waggoner, Ocean City sales manager for Long & Foster Realtors. "That is the largest increase we've had in a while."

Sam Cook, general manager of the Carousel Hotel & Resort, agreed that it was a banner season but added that recession-rocked vacationers have not returned to the free-spending ways of the 1980s.

Many tourists cooked in their rooms or sought out restaurant specials, he said.

"Everyone was running specials seven nights a week," Mr. Cook said. "Any specials advertised, they went for."

Vacationer Mark Henderson of Edgemere said he was using discount coupons for restaurant meals, buying T-shirts off the three-for-$10 rack and walking instead of taking the $1.50-a-person boardwalk train.

"A few years ago I wouldn't have bothered," he said. "I'm trying to save on the little things to save for the bigger things."

To paraphrase an old real estate saw, there are three important factors in assessing the success of an Ocean City summer: weather, weather and weather.

The summer of 1993 was the fifth hottest on record -- with an average 24-hour temperature of 76.3 degrees from June through August -- and almost bone-dry, a contrast to rainy 1992.

"It was pretty much of an ideal summer for beach-goers," said Ken Shaver, a National Weather Service forecaster at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. "Even the little scare with Hurricane Emily worked out pretty well. Probably everybody was pretty happy except for people like me. I never even got to go to the beach."

Among the happiest resort-goers had to be Ross C. Vickers, 54, a Newark, Del., man who has had a 30-year love affair with Ocean City and its deep-sea fishing. This summer, Mr. Vickers' steadfastness was rewarded: He landed a 246-pound tuna to win a fishing tournament.

Mr. Vickers, who is 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 250 pounds, caught the fish, just about his own size, 87 miles offshore on a 28-foot boat. The four-hour battle ended just in time for Mr. Vickers and his fishing buddies to race back to the Ocean City Fishing Center dock minutes before the deadline.

A crane was needed to hoist the tuna, almost 7 feet long, off the boat.

"It's such a tremendous feeling for a crew of ragtags to go out in a small boat and compete with the million-dollar people," Mr. Vickers said. "It's something we'll remember for a long time."

Many beach-goers will remember the summer of 1993 for the Beach Boys concert the last weekend in August. Nine thousand people rocked to surfing music in the most appropriate setting -- on the sand.

"It was a nice climax to a very good summer," said Mary Tawney, director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association. "Last year, we had rain, rain, rain. This year, we've had sun, sun, sun."

And then there was Hurricane Emily, which capped a fine season for Ocean City by veering out to sea at the last moment.

That whim of nature saved the season -- and put a few bucks in T-shirt entrepreneur Bruce Krasner's pocket.

Mr. Krasner said the summer was too sunny for his five shops to thrive.

"Rain for us is good. We only had six days of rain this year. We like the drizzle and overcast days," he said.

But now Mr. Krasner had caught a break. He was selling "I Survived Hurricane Emily" shirts.

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