A pandemic, continued restrictions on openings of some businesses by governor’s order and partly cloudy skies could not keep visitors and residents from Ocean City, where, even in this unprecedented time, families were out enjoying themselves.
And on Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start to the summer season, people purchased beach tags, did some shopping — albeit curbside pickup or takeout — strolled the famous Boardwalk, took a dip in the surf, biked, jogged and just had a good time.
“Amid COVID-19 people still came to Ocean City. A lot of homeowners and visitors helped with our virtual shopping event through the weekend and people were out on the Boardwalk strolling, taking in the fresh air, and practicing social distancing,” explained Michele Gillian, executive director of the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce.
She continued, “I think it was a great weekend for Ocean City. Everyone took notice that Ocean City is a safe place to come with family so long as everyone adheres to wearing masks and standing six feet apart from strangers.”
Discounted seasonal beach tags are on sale at locations throughout Ocean City. The 2020 tags are being offered at a discounted price of $20 through June 30. On July 1, the price increases to $25.
Gillian noted that the Music Pier, the Welcome Center on the Route 52 Causeway, City Hall and the 34th Street Welcome Center were busy selling the tags over the holiday weekend.
“Sales were very good, and it still shows people are going to be here in the summer,” she emphasized.
Tom and Joan Still, of Haddonfield, brought their 17-month-old daughter, Brooklyn, to the Boardwalk on Sunday to take in the sights and watch the waves.
They also had discounted seasonal beach tags on their minds.
The couple waited in line at the Music Pier, where employee Kira Kelly handed them the tags. All of them wore protective masks.
The Stills come down to the shore several times a year to visit their family, who has a vacation home in Ocean City.
It is a tradition that they look forward to year after year.
“We weren’t going to change our vacation. We love coming to Ocean City and spending time with family,” Tom said.
“We are hoping for a good summer,” added Joan.
Just as other tourists and residents took to the Boardwalk, the beach and downtown, it seemed that not even the coronavirus could sway people from heading to their beloved vacation destination in Ocean City.
Ocean City Public Information Officer Doug Bergen said Mayor Jay Gillian wanted to reinforce the message of the importance of social distancing.
“The mayor would like to remind everybody that the key to protecting everybody’s health and safety this summer will be in maintaining at least six feet of space between strangers and in wearing face coverings in any crowded or enclosed area, including the Boardwalk, public restrooms and takeout food lines,” Bergen said.
While downtown and Boardwalk merchants’ doors are open, the majority of businesses cannot let customers inside, unless the store owners sell essential goods such as food.
Restaurants offer curbside pickup, takeout and delivery service.
Michele Gillian noted that as Gov. Phil Murphy continues to allow the gradual reopening of businesses, it will really help the mom-and-pop shops that rely on the summer season to see them through the year.
Curbside pickup, which was just recently reinstated by the governor, accounts for roughly 10 percent of sales for merchants, officials said.
On May 30, hotels will once again be allowed to open, Gillian said. Ocean City has its share of hotels and motels, in addition to rental properties that people book sometimes a year in advance for their shore vacations.
“The hospitality industry – the hotels – are ready and working hard to make sure they are following all the CDC recommendations. They can’t wait to get their first visitors since the shutdown,” Gillian explained. “People are coming back for the beaches, the Boardwalk, shopping, sailing and taking advantage of all that Ocean City has to offer. I think we are on good road to the summer of 2020 — in the world of COVID-19, where there is a new normal.”
She added that the shutdown has been hard on Ocean City, as it has been on the rest of the shore communities.
“Hopefully, the governor will give us the word and we will be ready,” Gillian said.