By Donald Wittkowski
They came, they partied, they were well-behaved and they spent some money, too.
Sea Isle City’s signature Polar Bear Plunge Weekend on Feb. 16-18 attracted tens of thousands of visitors to town and proved to be another publicity and business coup, according to the Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization.
Event organizers estimated there were 40,000 to 45,000 people in Sea Isle for the entire weekend, a number comparable to the vacation crowds that flock to the island during the bustling summer tourism season.
“I think all in all, Sea Isle had a great weekend,” Mike Monichetti, owner of Mike’s Seafood & Dock Restaurant, told the Chamber members during their monthly board meeting Tuesday.
Monichetti sponsored the annual Mike’s Seafood Run-Walk for Autism on Feb. 18, one of the centerpieces of the Polar Bear Weekend festivities. The event attracted about 3,800 participants and raised between $120,000 and $130,000 for autism awareness and related programs, Monichetti said.
Although Monichetti praised the Polar Bear Weekend overall, he said a police official told him that the turnout was smaller than in 2017. Last year, an estimated 60,000 visitors crammed into the city, lured in large part by unusually mild 60-degree temperatures in the middle of winter.
Katherine Custer, the city’s public relations director, said she could only generally estimate the crowd size this year as “tens of thousands” of people.
“If it was smaller, it was only marginally,” Custer said, comparing this year’s turnout to 2017. “But it’s very hard to gauge.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, the Chamber’s board members dissected Polar Bear Weekend and mentioned some improvements with cellphone service and transportation that might be made in 2019. Overall, the weekend went smoothly, the crowds behaved and the events brought much-welcomed publicity and business to town, the board said.
All sectors of the business community, including shops, restaurants and bars, received a boost by having so many visitors in Sea Isle, the Chamber said.
However, Monichetti speculated that this year’s Polar Bear Weekend turnout – as well as spending around town – may have suffered because of the post-euphoria surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl win on Feb. 4 and the huge victory parade that followed four days later.
“I think they partied themselves out and used everything up in their pocketbook. They didn’t come out like previous years,” Monichetti said of the Philadelphia-area crowds that usually descend on Sea Isle for the weekend.
Christopher Glancey, Chamber of Commerce president, said he believed there were record crowds in town for at least one day during the weekend, Sunday, Feb. 18.
“Sunday was terrific. It was the biggest crowd ever,” Glancey told the Chamber’s board.
Falling on Presidents Day weekend, the Polar Bear celebration takes advantage of the extended holiday weekend. The weekend’s headline event is the traditional plunge in the frosty ocean by thousands of self-styled “polar bears.” An estimated 2,500 revelers took the plunge on Feb. 17, while thousands of spectators watched the madcap event from the beaches.
Joanna Heston, a representative of Seven Mile Publishing & Creative, the Chamber’s marketing consultant, said the plunge received heavy coverage from Philadelphia TV stations and media outlets at the Jersey Shore, helping to showcase Sea Isle to a broad audience.