By MADDY VITALE
Wallet? Check. Holiday shopping list? Check. Pajamas … huh?
Yes, it is true, the only real way to shop in Ocean City, at least during “Earlier Than The Bird,” is in your PJs. The downtown shopping extravaganza each year features discounts on merchandise, freebies, including doughnuts and coffee, music in Mark Soifer Park and a lot of Santa sightings, not to mention a stilt walker.
The zany tradition, sponsored by the Downtown Merchants Association, in partnership with the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce, is a hit year after year, with families gearing up for the holidays.
The downtown, which is decked out in holiday decor from garland wrapped around lamp posts to swags and wreaths adorned with bright red bows, set the scene and the magical mood.
Jessica Amoroso, of Ocean City, and her children, Sophia, 13, Lilyanna, 11, and 9-year-old Aurora, perused the shops with hot drinks in tow.
“Ocean City has the best holiday events. Really, it is the best town,” Jessica Amoroso said. “We like coming out to support the local businesses, too. I love that it brings a lot of business to the town.”
Lilyanna said her favorite part of the day was wearing her pajamas.
“I like the doughnuts, too,” she said with a chuckle.
Sophia liked the decorations and the raffles.
“I got hot chocolate and a doughnut,” she said.
While Aurora didn’t say much, she seemed to be quite content nibbling on a chocolate doughnut.
“Earlier Than The Bird” is the official kickoff to the holiday shopping season in Ocean City. And with temperatures near 50 degrees, visitors said it was just the right weather to take a stroll — in pajamas.
“It’s our tradition, and you can’t beat fleece pajamas,” Francesca Lacey, of Northfield, noted.
The Ocean City Primary School kindergarten teacher said that she and her mother, Angel Siligrini, also of Northfield, enjoy the event every year.
“We always wear matching pajamas,” Lacey said.
“It’s fun deciding what we are going to wear,” Siligrini added.
Robbie Roselle, of West Caldwell, N.J., Diane Young, Leta Strain and Sue Rowe, all of Ocean City, wore matching pajamas. By noon, they had already purchased bags of gifts.
“It’s fun to shop and then go to lunch together,” Roselle said. “It really gets you into the holiday spirit.”
Rowe laughed as she tasted a sample of frozen yogurt.
“I think it is sea salt and caramel. It is good,” she said with a smile.
Adjacent to Mark Soifer Park, located across from City Hall, is Santa’s Mailbox.
Children stopped to look at Santa’s Mailbox and then headed into the park. Some visitors snapped photos of their family sitting in a decorative lifeguard boat in the park.
Best friends Sarah Acampora, of Northfield, brought her 18-month-old daughter Teresa, who was dressed as Cindy Lou Who, while Acampora’s best friend, Danni Faulkner, of Ocean City, dressed her 4-year-old son Charlie as none other than the Grinch.
“We have been friends since school. We love coming to this every year. It is our tradition,” Acampora said.
She added that her daughter didn’t seem to mind her outfit. In fact, she said, she kind of liked it.
“We went to breakfast and then we did some shopping,” Faulkner said.
Charlie wasn’t exactly in Grinch character as he quickly flashed a grin for the camera.
Lora Hamer, of Ocean City, and her friend, Brenda Aungst, also of Ocean City, wore their matching holiday PJs and watched in amusement at Teresa and Charlie, as they sat on a bench in the park and sipped hot drinks.
“We’ve been doing this for a number of years,” Hamer said of the friends dressing up for the occasion.
She continued, “The first year, we wore pajama bottoms and a regular top. Then it evolved where we started dressing in pajama top and bottoms.”
Ocean City Councilman Jody Levchuk, co-owner of Jilly’s shops on the Boardwalk and a new store on Asbury Avenue, brought the Grinch with him.
“He’s been great. We opened at 8 a.m. and everyone loved him,” Levchuk said with a laugh, adding that the Grinch makes an appearance to the delight of children each holiday season.
For some, it was a day of holiday traditions, enjoying the sights and the sounds.
And for others, it meant shopping, shopping and more, well, shopping.
Maureen Malason and Bridget Watton, both of Conshohocken Pa., Patty Wacker, of Ocean City, and Shelly Marchozzi, of Linwood, already purchased bags of goodies for family and friends.
The best part of their shopping spree, of course, was their holiday PJs – especially Wacker’s Grinch pajamas.
“We bought ornaments, baby stuff and a stuffed animal,” Malason said. “We aren’t done yet.”
Marchozzi said of the annual tradition for the group, “We have a great time shopping together.”