All aboard for a busy weekend

Square dancers and OpSail in town


June 23, 2000|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Mary Garfield is stacking ice cream coolers with tubs of Do-Si-Do Swirl and Ships Ahoy. Brice Phillips Jr. is ordering a truck to store extra pounds of crabmeat. And Sam Anderson is sharing his Sheraton kitchen with 13 Italian chefs who have lost their cutlery.

These are just a few of the ways Inner Harbor businesses are preparing for the arrival of 15,000 square dancers and thousands of tall-ship watchers this weekend.

Baltimore fought hard to land both Operation Sail 2000 and the National Square Dance Convention - then-Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke lobbied the square dancers' board at its meeting in Birmingham, Ala., in 1995 because the 1984 Baltimore convention had had such an impact. Having both events here this weekend will transform the Inner Harbor into a junction of petticoats and petty officers, of women in puffy sailor dresses and midshipmen in their "dress white" best.

Operation Sail 2000 organizers expect 1 million visitors from today through Thursday and estimate they'll spend $55 million during their stay. The square dancers will spend $9.5 million during their four-day stay - and that's a conservative estimate, according to Peggy Daidakis, executive director of the Baltimore Convention Center.

Inner Harbor businesses say they're prepared. Mary Garfield, owner of Lee's Homemade Ice Cream, ordered 350 tubs of ice cream for the weekend - more than three times the usual amount. Included are tubs of Ships Ahoy, a concoction of fudge and chips made for OpSail, and Do-Si-Do Swirl, a cheesecake-and-strawberry mix introduced in 1984.

"I know they are fun-loving people, and ice cream is a fun product," Garfield said of the square dancers, who wear their costumes throughout the day.

Bringing back the Do-Si-Do Swirl was a good move. Square dancers are known to feast on ice cream, Daidakis said. Local square dance organizer Dick Peterson predicted that the dancers would need lots of it, because they'll be dancing from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. today through Sunday.

Most downtown hotels report nearly full occupancy for the weekend because of both groups. Square dancers are also staying at Fort Smallwood Park in Anne Arundel County.

Not since 1984 has Cameron Kane expected so many petticoats, and rarely so many people. The co-owner of Ed Kane's Water Taxi sold more than 10,000 tickets in advance for OpSail week. "We're crazed," she said between phone calls. "It's the most we've ever had."

To brace for it, Kane leased two additional boats, bringing the fleet to 13 boats. At Ruth's Chris Steak House, chef Eric Littlejohn is boning up on rib-eyes. He expects to serve between 1,400 and 1,800 steaks this weekend - 25 percent more than usual.

Edward Prutzer, general manager of the Rusty Scupper, expects his patrons will consume 1,200 crab cakes this weekend - double the usual amount.

The restaurant has hired 70 people since March, anticipating OpSail. Prutzer estimates that sales will be up 60 percent for the week and will double on the restaurant's deck. "If it was to rain," he said, "we'd be in tears."

Phillips Harborplace Restaurants are expecting 50 percent more customers and have hired staff accordingly. In a typical weekend, Phillips uses 1,400 pounds of crab cakes and serves 5,000 customers on an average Saturday. Phillips is bringing in a truck to store seafood for the crowds.

"I'm predicting it will be Phillips' busiest weekend ever," said assistant general manager Brice Phillips Jr. "I just hope there are enough restaurants to feed everybody."

Even Hooters of Harborplace had to up its wing orders, said manager Mike Dates. He should have ordered more film for the restaurant's Polaroid cameras - on Wednesday evening, more than 40 sailors came for the famed wings, and photos with the "girls," Dates reported.

Even the best-laid plans get a wrinkle now and then. Such was the case at the Sheraton Inner Harbor. Executive chef Sam Anderson had offered his kitchen to 13 Italian chefs to serve dinner aboard the Amerigo Vespucci, one of OpSail's tallest ships. The chefs had flown in to prepare. Trouble was, the airline lost their luggage - stranding them without uniforms and cutlery. So they baked focaccia and filled petits fours in T-shirts and chinos, and communicated in sign language with Anderson. He gave them plastic bags to cover their expensive Italian shoes.

Although tourism officials predict that this weekend could be the Inner Harbor's busiest ever, businesses see it as the first in an onslaught. Harborplace celebrates its 20th anniversary July 2, followed by Fourth of July festivities. Officials are expecting about 15,000 for the NAACP convention July 7-13.

Next weekend, the 17th Annual Convention of the International Association of Gay Square Dance Clubs arrives, its 1,200 attendees eager to take in the Inner Harbor.

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