Long winter ignites Ocean City fever

May 27, 1994|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,Ocean City Bureau of The Sun

OCEAN CITY -- Weather permitting, the madness will start today.

This weekend officially opens summer in Ocean City, the little town on Maryland's easternmost reach that will become the state's second-largest city for the next three months as it plays host to as many as 300,000 visitors at a time.

"People are just ready after that long cold winter -- they are just ready," says Dana Ward, rental coordinator for Moore, Warfield & Glick, one of the area's largest real estate agencies.

And Ocean City is ready, too.

The preparations have been escalating all spring, reaching a fever pitch this week. The Boardwalk has been humming as proprietors paint, refurbish and stock their stores.

At the Commander Hotel on the Boardwalk on Wednesday, floors were being mopped, chairs being set out and the hotel's kitchen was awash in asparagus. Five hundred pounds of it, fresh in from Delaware.

"We've got it all over the kitchen!" said head chef Oather Mumford. And indeed they did -- every kitchen employee was cutting, washing or unboxing the fresh green stalks.

"Yesterday, Oather was painting a fence," said Bob Timmons, the hotel's consultant. In the rush to get ready for summer's debut, "No one gets away!"

Mr. Timmons said the Commander, a Boardwalk fixture since 1930, was "99.9 percent booked" for the holiday weekend, a promising start to the season.

Seasonal hires here bring 10,000 to 12,000 people over the two bridges and many of them are already in place. The city alone hires 1,000 people to help cope with the explosion in population.

"Every department has some changes in it," says City Manager Dennis Dare. "Bus services have increased. The trash collection has increased. We've added more people at the airport to sell gas, more groundskeepers at the golf course . . . more people at Parks and Recreation." Coastal Highway has also come to life, with heavier traffic and businesses opening and advertising for summer business, showing the kind of optimism that's almost tangible all over town.

"GET DOWN HERE NOW OR WE'RE STARTING SUMMER WITHOUT YOU," says the sign in front of the SeaSide Deli at 74th Street.

"Spring has been very strong as far as hotels," says Vicki Morris, general manager of the Dunes Manor Hotel and also president of the Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association.

Most businesses say they've had indications of a strong season from spring trade and also inquiries and reservations. Last year was a good year, but everyone hopes summer 1994 will be even better, bolstered by winter-weary sun-seekers.

"We're a thousand calls ahead per month of last year, which is a good sign," says Alex FauntLeRoy, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, which monitors a city 800 number that gives information about the resort. The numbers bear him out: March 1994 brought 8,079 calls on the 800 line, up from 1993's 7,388 calls. April of this year showed a similar increase, with 9,215 calls topping last year's 8,270 for the month.

"It looks great, better than last year," says Mike Tatro, general manager of the 201-room Fenwick Inn. "Advance reservation calls are up; we're a month ahead of where we were last year, as far as booking for July. Most people make reservations 30 to 45 days in advance; we're running 60 days ahead of the average."

Calls have been equally strong at charter boat businesses and watersports rental shops.

"We're expecting a real good year -- so far, we have been filled on the weekends," says Stefanie Krannebitter, marketing director for the Ocean City Fishing Center, which operates the OC Princess, the town's largest headboat (headboats charge per person, rather than a single flat fee customary on charter boats). "The fishing's been good, and we're expecting a lot of good fishing this year."

"It looks like it's gonna be good if the weather gives us a break," says Mark Alves, owner of Water Sports Unlimited, which rents boats and jet-skis. He reports "hundreds of calls" more than last year, but experience has taught him about the weather. "Soon as that weather man says 'chance of rain,' they all change their minds," he says.

Who does he count on for weather prediction? The Farmer's Almanac. "I swear, it's been on the money. . . . It's been pretty darn accurate."

The almanac is calling for more fair days than foul for the next three months in its "Conjecture of the Weather." For June, the almanac forecasts showers or storms on 12 days of the month. For July, it predicts 11 days with showers or storms, and for August, 10 days have rain in the forecast (with two of them, Aug. 19 and 20, calling for a tropical storm).

From the inlet to the Delaware line, every optimist in Ocean City plans to keep a wary eye on Mother Nature.

"The weather is the biggest factor there is; that makes us or breaks us," says Mayor Roland E. "Fish" Powell, adding that for Memorial Day weekend at least, "the weather sounds good."

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