By MADDY VITALE
If it weren’t for plenty of headbands complete with bunny ears, colorful plastic eggs filled with toys and candies, and an Easter bunny or two, a casual observer might have thought Saturday was a bustling summer day on the Ocean City Boardwalk.
Throngs of visitors and residents alike took to the boards to enjoy the official Ocean City kickoff to what is predicted to be a busy spring season with COVID-19 pandemic numbers down.
Hundreds of families, with children carrying Easter baskets, strolled along the Boardwalk, enjoyed mild temperatures and sunny skies and plucked plenty of plastic eggs from baskets at stores that were filled with candies, goodies and toys.
Parking lots were filled. And lines formed for amusement ride tickets and for ice cream, pizza and other staples of the shore.
Yes, it was the second Saturday of “The Great Egg Hunt.” And although many Boardwalk visitors enjoyed rides at the amusement parks, arcades and shopping, there were definitely a lot of people there to get a jumpstart on some Easter treats.
Caitlin and Joe Yeck, of River Vale in Bergen County, brought their children, Evelyn, 2, and Madelyn, 5, for the day.
“We usually come down in the summer, but we heard about the egg hunt and decided to see what it was all about,” Caitlin Yeck said.
“I’m having fun,” Madelyn chimed in.
Then Madelyn carefully counted out some of the plastic eggs that filled her basket.
“I have eight purple eggs!” she exclaimed.
Evelyn also had a basket filled with colorful plastic eggs that she proudly held up for a photo op.
Jessica Maher, of Vineland, and her son, Jason, 2, and Julia Tridente, of Upper Township, with her children, Luca, 4, and 7-year-old daughter Vittoria, selected some plastic eggs from Jilly’s Candy Factory employee Elizabeth Mauro and Leni Levchuk, 9, whose family owns the shop.
“It’s a beautiful day and we are enjoying our time here,” Maher said. “We are going to see the Easter bunny next.”
Store and restaurant owners weren’t the only ones to hand out eggs.
Ocean City Police Officers Kylie Malusis and Joshua Biggs stood in front of the Ocean City Beach Patrol Headquarters and gave out eggs to children who happily took the treats.
Gina Andrews, of Somers Point, held her 22-month-old daughter, Amelia, while she took an egg or two.
In 2021, the Boardwalk Merchants Association (BMA) came up with the novel way to do an Easter egg hunt for children up to seven years old.
Traditionally, the egg hunt had been held on the beach, with thousands of stuffed multi-colored plastic eggs filled with candies, toys and other goodies.
But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, due to gathering restrictions, the city canceled the hunt for 2020 and 2021.
The Great Egg Hunt was so well-received in 2021 that Jody Levchuk, co-owner of Jilly’s Boardwalk shops, said the BMA decided to offer it again this year.
“Everybody loves it,” Levchuk, who is also an Ocean City councilman, said Saturday. “It gives more of a personal touch. I think for families who come down for the day it gives them a better experience. You get to interact with the families.”
The stores have eggs in buckets and kids come in to pick them up. This year, more than 50 Boardwalk shops, including restaurants, participated in the Great Egg Hunt.
“It shaped up to become an even greater event than the one on the beach. We always want to keep things fresh and interesting in Ocean City,” Levchuk said. “Easter weekend is really the kickoff to the busy season.”