By Maddy Vitale
The Connolly family headed down Asbury Avenue with a few very important goals in mind: Accumulate goodies, more goodies and then even more goodies.
Yes, the Glassboro family was on a quest to sample a variety of foods and browse the vendor tables.
And they had an array of choices at the Ocean City Spring Block Party, a blockbuster annual event featuring 350 crafters, a variety of food vendors, musicians and an abundance of kids’ activities over a mile of downtown Asbury Avenue between Fifth Street and 14th Street.
“It’s our annual tradition,” explained Lisa Connolly, who lives in Glassboro and has a vacation home in Ocean City. “The kids really look forward to it.”
Connolly, and her two children, Megan, 7, and Sean, 5, made their way down Asbury Avenue sampling all sorts of goodies.
“In between eating our way around, we got some neat stuff,” Connolly said.
The children were quick to display their gifts, which included a bright red balloon, two giant, orange fly swatters and a toy that Sean thought might be called a fire ball.
No matter what the toy was called, Sean said it was fun all the same, as he opened and closed it to display how it works.
A steady stream of people filled the streets. “Pirate Dave” of Air Circus, a store on the Boardwalk, entertained onlookers with his bubble display.
People stopped to look at clothing, artwork, dog biscuits, get snow cones and check out the toys.
The Spring Block Party is in its 37th year. Like last year, the forecast was calling for rain. It sprinkled in the morning, but that did not deter the crowds.
“We come every year. We had rain boots in our bags just in case,” explained Richelle Young, of Egg Harbor Township.
She, along with her children, Jax, 2, and Lux, 4, were having a great time, she said.
By noon, they had already browsed a good part of Asbury Avenue. Their next stop was to be for Lux, who was going to get her face painted.
“There is so much for the kids to do. They really love it,” Young noted.
The Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce is the block party’s principal organizer. The Chamber partners with the downtown merchants and the city to run the event. Local organizations participate in the event.
An estimated 30,000 people filled Asbury Avenue to enjoy the day. Officials estimate another 20,000 visitors will come to Ocean City to take advantage of the Boardwalk and merchant table sales event going on throughout the day on Sunday.
While the heart of the event is downtown, Boardwalk businesses also benefit from the surge of visitors for the block party, city officials said.
Three generations of the Owens family attended the block party. Trish Owens, of Cherry Hill, and her daughter, Mandee DeHaven, of Stratford, and her daughter, Carly, 5, called it a very important family tradition.
“My mom took me,” Owens recalled. “She has since passed away. It is our tradition. Every year we come. My sister lives down here so we visit and stay the night.”
DeHaven added, “We have been coming here since I was little. Ocean City is the place. We don’t go to any other beach because this is the place we grew up. Carly loves it and I am expecting in November. I want the new baby to love it, too.”
After Asbury Avenue shopping, they said they were heading off to the Boardwalk.
While some children had their faces painted, Maggie Morris, 5, of Seaville, was really excited about a glittery, unicorn headband that her mom, Lindsay, bought her.
“I’m having a unicorn birthday party,” Maggie said with a smile in between nibbling on a hotdog.
Her brother, Reed, 9, also munched on a hotdog. He didn’t have any plans for toys or clothes, but he had a goal in mind.
“I want water ice next,” Reed said and giggled.
To that, their mother laughed.
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Michele Gillian called the Spring Block Party the unofficial opening of the 2019 tourism season.
“The Spring Block Party starts the season with a bang,” Gillian explained. “We welcome thousands of people back to Ocean City to enjoy shopping with all the crafters, visiting your favorite downtown stores, food of all kinds and great sweet treats.”
She noted that the Spring and Fall Block Parties are real staples of Ocean City’s tourism and are great ways to bring in visitors during the shoulder seasons.
But it wasn’t just families and other visitors having a good time at the event that gives Ocean City an early season boost.
Elyssa Glenn, whose shop Sea Findings is in Stainton’s Gallery of Shops, said business was nonstop.
Customers filled her vendor table to look at baubles on display and try some on.
“The weather held up and we have been busy steadily through the day,” Glenn said. “Everyone has been pleasant. But that is the way it always is. Our business has been here for six years.”