By MADDY VITALE
Pajama-clad shoppers in Ocean City’s downtown Saturday could have drawn some stares if it hadn’t been for a zany event each year when it is OK to wear PJs to buy those special holiday gifts – even if it was only 39 degrees out.
Yes, “Earlier than the Bird,” a longtime tradition for some, new mega-shopping excursion for others, from 8 a.m. to noon, meant good deals on merchandise from Sixth Street to 14th Street, some free coffee and even free turkeys awarded to the best-dressed.
Music also entertained visitors in Mark Soifer Park. Silly sleepwear and a few ugly Christmas sweaters kept the interesting sights coming. Oh, there was even a stilt walker who had no trouble window shopping.
Holiday decorations from garland wrapped around lamp posts to swags and wreaths adorned with bright red bows set the stage for the holiday shopping spree each year.
But it didn’t take much to get friends Linda Brown, of Downingtown, Pa., Deb McDonough, of Coatesville Pa. and Linwood, Kiersten Geist, of Avondale, Pa., and Sandy Brower, of Pottstown, Pa., into the festive mood.
Complete with bags filled with newly purchased merchandise, and a bit of humor-inspired PJs, the friends who worked together at a school in Downingtown, Pa., were having a great time.
The friends, who have made the event a tradition for the last nine years, purchased books, a backpack, chocolate bombs, clothing, a Santa Claus hat and some salt water taffy.
“It’s an opportunity to get together and do some shopping. It’s our big day,” Brown said.
McDonough joked, “No husbands. No kids. Today, it’s just a girls shopping trip.”
“Earlier than the Bird,” is sponsored by the Downtown Merchants Association in partnership with the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce.
It serves as the kickoff for holiday shopping in the downtown.
Jean Kling, of Ocean City, and her cousin, Phyllis Turner, of Sewell in Camden County who also has a home in Ocean City, enjoy dressing in their PJs for a bit of whimsy — albeit it on a brisk day — to make some purchases and have some fun every year.
“The first year Jean told me about it, I said I would love to do it. It sounded like fun,” Turner said. “We do a different theme each year.”
Kling chimed in, “We try to think of something fun to do each year.”
They wore PJs and decorated their walkers with tinsel and turkey stuffed animals.
“The first year we brought our dogs in a wagon,” Kling said.
In addition to shopping, there were free horse-and-carriage rides that began Saturday and extend through the holiday season.
The carriage rides took visitors for a tour of the downtown. The rides were available at Sixth Street and Asbury Avenue.
Some business owners also got into the spirit and did some holiday strolling.
Innkeeper Sne Avichal and his team of employees at The Scarborough Inn, located at 720 Ocean Ave., dressed in some festive wear.
Avichal joked that he switched his trademark Panama hat out for a Santa hat for the zany event.
“We just wanted to come out and have some fun. We turned our staff uniforms into PJs,” Avichal said with a laugh.
Nicole Roberts, a member of The Scarborough Inn team, added, “We are just coming out to show our holiday spirit.”
In addition to good deals on merchandise for shoppers and some fun for business owners and innkeepers along with horse and carriage rides, “Earlier than the Bird,” signified savings on seasonal beach tags, which went on sale Saturday.
Jeanne Kahn, of Malvern, Pa., who has a second home in Ocean City, and her daughter, Natalie, and their friend, Patty Paone, of Lansdale, Pa., headed straight to City Hall to pick up seasonal beach tags.
“We have been coming to Ocean City since I was in elementary school,” Kahn, 56, noted. “We come to Earlier than the Bird because we love to shop and we like to get our beach tags today too because we save some money.”
Paone added, “It helps to get the beach tags early instead of in the summer when it is really busy.”
Nancy McNamara and her husband, Bob, live in Ocean City. Nancy was happy to wait in a line that quickly formed Saturday to buy up some beach tags at a bargain price.
She bought seven beach tags.
“These are for my grandchildren. They make great stocking stuffers,” McNamara said. “They are also for my daughter and her family and for my husband and me.”
The discounted $30 price for beach tags remains in effect through May 31. After that, the price increases to $35. Beach tags are required for all beachgoers ages 12 and older and will be in effect from June 3 through Sept. 4.
Only seasonal beach tags can be purchased at this time. Weekly ($20) and daily ($10) tags will be available for purchase during the season.
In addition to purchasing the seasonal tags at City Hall and the city’s Welcome Centers, they can be bought online at store.ocnj.us.
For more information about other special events in Ocean City, visit oceancityvacation.com.