By MADDY VITALE
Sarah Hall, of Newtown, Pa., and her children, Lucy, 4, and Emerson, 6, walked along Asbury Avenue, checking out some of the hundreds of vendors’ tents and displays that dotted the street Saturday for Ocean City’s Fall Block Party.
The children’s grandparents, Marilyn and Don Hayden, own a vacation home in Ocean City.
Each year, Hall and her family head to Ocean City to visit family for the festive Columbus Day weekend celebration. The Fall Block Party was packed with tens of thousands of people. It is followed by two days of events, including a seafood vendors’ festival on the Music Pier and downtown and Boardwalk merchant sales.
“We came down here to wrap up the season and buy from local vendors,” Hall said.
The kids nibbled on soft pretzels as the family browsed the vendor tables.
Lucy had all she wanted, she said, as she waved her pretzel in the air and giggled.
“He is still looking around for something,” Sarah said of Emerson, who was in search of a special toy.
The Fall Block Party has become a tradition that locals and visitors look forward to for some early holiday shopping, family-friendly entertainment and as a way to say goodbye to summer and get into the fall spirit.
It is the true kickoff to the fall season and a big boost for businesses, city officials said.
Asbury Avenue from Fifth Street to 14th Street bulged with huge crowds, estimated at 50,000 people.
Many people browsed the 400 vendors along Asbury Avenue. Musicians, entertainers dressed as pirates creating giant bubbles to the amusement of children, and lots of food, crafts and plenty of holiday gifts made up the activity filled all-day event.
Alanna Young, 6, of New Hope, Pa., was busy selecting her perfect slime creation. The gooey stuff came with an assortment of glitter to choose from.
Summer Ginn was working the slime booth and helped Alanna with her selections and showed her how to mix it to perfection.
“This is the only place she wanted to go,” said Alanna’s father, Daniel Young. “We come to the Fall Block Party every year. We have a vacation home here. We never miss this. The weather is great, too.”
After their slime purchase, the father and daughter duo were heading to get a bite to eat.
The lines were long for ribs, gyros, burgers, hotdogs and funnel cakes. A mixture of the aroma of the many delectable treats wafted in the air.
Karen Richards and her daughter, Kacey, both of Williamstown, were staying at their vacation home in Ocean City for the holiday weekend.
They never miss the Fall Block Party.
“We look forward to it every year,” Karen said. “We buy some things and we get a lot of food.”
But the food they were purchasing at the moment wasn’t for them. Instead, their Shih Tzu, Rosie, was trying a taste from a selection of gourmet dog treats at a vendor table.
“She loves these treats,” Karen Richards said as she pointed to a handful of doggie snacks, and handed one to Rosie.
While the Hall, Haden and Richards families make the Fall Block Party an annual tradition, Rachel and Chris Scott, of Somers Point, brought their 7-month-old daughter, Penelope, and their dachshund-mix Charlie, hoping to make the event their yearly tradition as well.
“This is great. We are looking at piggy banks,” Rachel said, while searching the choices in a crafts tent. “We are going to do some more shopping after this and then get something to eat.”
“There’s lots of food,” Chris added.
Each year, officials say, the Fall Block Party is one of the most successful events the city offers.
Justin Juliano, of the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce, is in charge of the Fall Block Party.
He said prior to Saturday’s event, “The block party is when many people start their holiday shopping and it highlights all of the boutiques, shops and eateries in the downtown.”
Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Michele Gillian called it “one of the city’s biggest and most spectacular events and really showcases what the town has to offer.”
And even when the weather is not picture perfect, it doesn’t seem to matter. The crowds still come.
Last year gray skies and light rain did not deter shoppers and other attendees from heading to the Fall Block Party.
And this Saturday’s forecast of potential flooding did not seem to stop visitors from attending, either.
Minor flooding was reported in areas along the coast, but Asbury Avenue was dry.
However, fireworks planned for Saturday night were canceled due to rough seas. The fireworks display was to be set off from a barge in the ocean.
As the day went on, the weather became warmer and the sun came out. Temperatures rose to about 70 by mid-day and shoppers peeled off layers of clothes as they searched the multitude of tables for gifts and goodies.
Ocean City Councilman Antwan McClellan browsed the vendor tables and summed up the atmosphere.
“This is a beautiful weekend,” he said. “What a beautiful way to continue our shoulder season with thousands of people here to celebrate with us.”