By Donald Wittkowski
They were resplendent in their pajamas, fluffy robes, snowman-decorated leggings and goofy Santa Claus caps. To top off their flamboyant outfits, they chose outrageously gaudy, matching pink sunglasses.
“So, how do we look?” Joyce Scholz said invitingly to a passerby on Asbury Avenue in the heart of downtown Ocean City.
Knowing full well what the answer would be, Scholz and her friends Dawn Talvacchio, Joan McLaughlin and Cass Cebular burst into laughter.
Although their appearance was something to poke fun at, the four women were in Ocean City on Saturday morning to do some serious shopping.
Scholz, of Medford, Talvacchio, of North Wildwood, McLaughlin, of Wildwood Crest, and Cebular, of Wildwood, were part of the pajama-clad mobs of shoppers that invaded the downtown area Saturday for a wacky promotion that kicks off the holiday retail season.
Dubbed “Earlier Than The Bird,” the annual event invites shoppers to roll out of bed and hit the stores in the morning while still wearing their PJs.
Some shoppers have made the event a pre-holiday tradition, carefully selecting their zany pajama outfits ahead of time to make sure they will grab plenty of attention – and laughs – once they appear in public.
“This is the eighth year that we’ve dressed up,” Scholz said. “We’re going to do a lot of shopping. Then, we’re going to look for Santa Claus.”
When asked if they planned to flirt with Santa, Scholz replied, mischievously, “Of course.”
Bea Olinger and her daughter, Bonnie Olinger, both of Ocean City, were experiencing the shopping extravaganza for the third time together. Their matching ensemble featured old-fashioned red granny hats and Christmas-themed pajamas.
“We always try to build on what we did the previous year,” Bea Olinger said of the amount of planning they put into their get-ups.
“Earlier Than The Bird” refers to the turkey that will be on the Thanksgiving menu next week. The promotion allows downtown businesses to get a jump on the Black Friday crush, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.
Old-fashioned decorations give Ocean City’s downtown a festive feel. Christmas lights twinkle in multicolor splendor. Green garland and big, red bows hang above Asbury Avenue and are also draped on the Victorian-style lampposts lining the sidewalks.
Merchants are counting on the holiday season to revitalize the downtown business district now that the summer vacation crowds are gone. As an extra incentive for shoppers, many of the stores are offering steep discounts.
“It puts everyone in the mood for holiday shopping,” Patty Talese, president of the Downtown Merchants Association, said of the “Earlier Than The Bird” promotion.
“It brings new energy to the downtown area. It also brings first-time shoppers to Ocean City and gives them plenty to do. Hopefully, it will bring them back.”
Talese spoke amid a packed lunchtime crowd Saturday in her Asbury Avenue coffee shop and bistro, Jon & Patty’s. Restaurants also benefit from the throngs of shoppers strolling through the downtown area.
Bill Baumler, owner of the Potomac Bead Co. shop on Asbury Avenue, said it would be “much quieter” downtown this time of year if not for the “Earlier Than The Bird” promotion.
“I think it’s an excellent event. It definitely brings people downtown. Plus, it allows them to have fun and dress up,” said Baumler, who, along with his employees, were also decked out in pajamas.
Brigantine resident Vicky Campbell, accompanied by her husband, Frank, said she was mainly window-shopping at the stores, but was planning to stop in at a restaurant or two.
“Basically, I’m buying food. I’m a foodie,” she said.
However, she added that she planned to spend a lot of money at an Ocean City consignment shop “until I go broke.”
Not to be outdone by other pajama-dressed shoppers, Campbell was wearing a blue robe and some fuzzy slippers that resembled flip-flops.
“If you’re in Ocean City, you have to wear the flip-flops,” she said, laughing.