Ocean City expects busy fall season

September 02, 1994|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,Ocean City Bureau of The Sun

OCEAN CITY -- Summer 1994 is ending as it began, with "Help Wanted" signs flowering along Coastal Highway and hopes for a lucrative holiday weekend.

As colleges and universities go back into session, jobs are opening up here, and seasonal workers with later school dates are in demand. And, as the Labor Day long weekend arrives and summer slips away, businesses and workers are already looking ahead.

"Last one over the bridge turn out the lights and lock the door? That doesn't happen here," said the town's director of tourism, Bob Rothermel. Local agencies and businesses are already planning for Sunfest at the end of September and for Winterfest at Christmas.

"We don't look at it as the end of the season," said Rick Pairo, wine manager for Fager's Island, a bar and restaurant. While Mr. Pairo agrees that Labor Day officially closes the summer, it doesn't signal a shutdown for the resort industry, he said.

"September and October are very busy for us," he said. "If the weather hangs with us, we'll be looking good."

Weather this year, as every year, was the key to Ocean City's success.

"The season was pretty good overall," said Mr. Pairo. "We got June drought, July floods, a mixed bag in August. . . . We're expecting a good Labor Day weekend -- it looks like good weather."

"The town did exceptionally well this year," agreed Mr. Rothermel. "The weather may have curtailed some restaurant, retail and amusement opportunities. It's been somewhat unpredictable."

Rainy evenings much of the summer may have hurt outdoor establishments, he said, particularly in July, which had rain 20 of 25 days after the holiday Fourth of July weekend.

But that was offset somewhat by good forecasts for most of the summer, which drew visitors to Maryland's beach.

"Our room-tax numbers are looking real good, which means people are coming to town and people are spending money," he said. Although no hard numbers are yet available on the season, he said that informational calls to the town ran 50 percent higher than last year for the period from July 15 to Aug. 15. Those calls are a traditional early measure of the tourist traffic.

"We had over 60,000 calls for that period," he said. "It knocks the doors right off -- last year it might have been 40,000 calls."

Mr. Rothermel was equally optimistic about the upcoming weekend, which features a town-sponsored concert with the Beach Boys, Dion and Jefferson Starship.

"I think we'll see in the neighborhood of 10,000 people, based on advance ticket sales," he said. "It's about 10 percent better than last year."

On the beach Thursday afternoon, workers were constructing the stage for the Saturday night concert. At Caroline Street and the beach, the concert site, hammers rang against steel as the work crews of Stage Works and Mountain Productions joined forces to build a temporary concert venue.

Elsewhere around town, agencies and businesses readied for crowds.

"We're looking for a big weekend," said Coast Guard Senior Chief Bob Bennington, who said the Coast Guard would patrol the Caroline Street area during the concert. "Last year, we had probably 100 boats by the time the thing was done, out where they could hear the music," he said.

The summer was a busy one for the Coast Guard, he said, despite the odd weather. Search-and-rescue missions as of yesterday totaled 500 for the summer, compared with 446 last year, he said.

But it's dropped off dramatically this week, he said. "We ran about 55 search-and-rescues last week," he said. "We haven't done a dozen this week."

The Beach Patrol also expects a busy weekend, said Capt. George Schoepf, but will scale back its operations after Monday.

"We'll be full strength Saturday, Sunday and Monday," he said, with all 87 stands manned. Then on Tuesday, the Beach Patrol will cut the number of guards on stands, using Beach Patrol members on ATVs to keep the beach covered, he said.

The University of Maryland, College Park, began classes this week and that boosted an end-of-summer hiring surge.

"A lot of people are hurting for help right now," said Mr. Pairo. It used to be they didn't leave until the first week of September. Now they leave the first of August so they can have a couple of weeks partying -- it helps them get ready for the full-tilt party at college!"

The 1,000 or so students from overseas help fill the gap, merchants say, because they don't leave town until mid-September.

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