Eric Axelson was nattily attired in a tan business suit, brown dress shoes and a Hugo Boss shirt. He clutched a black briefcase in his left hand.
The Keller Williams real estate agent appeared ready to head back to the office to close some lucrative property deal. But, instead, he was spending Friday afternoon at the Ocean City beach.
He had no need for a bathing suit. He simply marched straight into the surf — business suit and all.
Axelson was part of the Business Persons Plunge, a wacky tradition held each Memorial Day weekend to kick off what city officials hope will be a busy summer tourism season.
“This is my cheapest suit,” Axelson said, laughing at the prospect of getting soaked.
Minutes later, he emerged from the still-chilly surf wearing waterlogged clothes and a
“We’re passionate about supporting business during the summer season. It’s a good cause,” Axelson said while explaining the reason for taking part in the plunge.
The zany publicity event shows just how far the city will go to promote business during the all-important summer season. Early signs are indicating that 2016 will be another strong summer.
Michele Gillian, executive director of the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce, said hotel occupancy is up between 2 percent and 5 percent and rental property bookings have increased between 5 percent and 10 percent compared to the same period last year.
“We have to wait until Labor Day before we start using terms like ‘blockbuster’ or ‘sold out.’ But this is a good indicator so far for a strong summer season for Ocean City,” Gillian said of the hotel and rental data.
Last year, the city posted record beach tag sales and parking revenue, two crucial metrics underscoring the strength of the summer season.
Ocean City hopes to leverage its recent selection as “Best Beach in America” in an online nationwide poll conducted by Coastal Living Magazine for even more business and publicity. It is also looking to defend its 2015 title as “Top Beach in New Jersey” in another contest. Results of the 2016 state contest will be announced on July 4.
As always, good weather is key for drawing visitors to the beaches, Boardwalk and business attractions. Ocean City recovered from a rainy June last year to bask in the glory of a sunny July and August.
Friday’s ceremonies to celebrate the arrival of the 2016 summer season took place under sun-splashed skies and temperatures in the 70s.
Using a large wooden key, city officials and local merchants ceremonially “unlocked” the ocean. The ceremony has been an Ocean City tradition for more than a century.
As hundreds of people watched, Mayor Jay Gillian officially proclaimed the ocean and beaches open for the summer.
“Seeing everyone here is a great sign,” the mayor said.
Parts of the downtown beaches and Boardwalk were already crowded early Friday afternoon. City spokesman Doug Bergen said the holiday weekend traffic began to build on Thursday and continued to be heavy on Friday.
The weather forecast calls for sunny skies and balmy temperatures Saturday and Sunday, but a chance of rain on Memorial Day.
“A weekend like this one in Philadelphia, where the temperatures are in the 90s, really brings them down to Ocean City,” Michele Gillian said on the bustling Ninth Street beach, where the ceremonies were held.
The unlocking of the ocean cleared the way for the colorful procession of dozens of business people to take the first dip of the season.
They were joined by a few hundred costumed characters, mascots and everyday tourists as they marched into the ocean led by local Realtor John Walton and accompanied by the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” played by the Ocean City High School Band.
Suzanne Muldowney, better known as her flamboyant alter ego “Shelley the South Jersey Shore Mermaid,” helped to direct the crowd into the sea. Unlike the business people clad in workplace attire, Muldowney sported a mermaid costume resplendent in sequins, shells and ruffles, not to mention a fake tail and fins.
Muldowney participates in the plunge every year. Gazing at the crowds Friday, she predicted that Ocean City will enjoy another stellar summer season.
“I’ve always loved coming to Ocean City ever since I was a little girl,” the 63-year-old Muldowney said. “So many other people do, too. It’s so family friendly.”