By Donald Wittkowski
Patricia Allen searched through a cardboard box Friday and pulled out eight little pieces of plastic that, at the seashore, are as good as gold.
“Two, four, six, eight,” she counted out while sorting the beach tags on the counter at the Sea Isle City Welcome Center.
Lines formed in the lobby at the Welcome Center as visitors waited patiently to buy their all-important beach tags from Allen during the first day of the Memorial Day weekend, the traditional kickoff to the summer tourism season at the Jersey Shore.
If beach tag sales are an early indicator of whether the entire summer season will be strong, then Sea Isle is off to an auspicious start.
“Probably 1,500 – or better. I’m into my third box,” Allen said, roughly estimating the total number of tags she had sold shortly before 1 p.m.
After a stormy March and unusually chilly April, the summer season seemingly arrived overnight, just in time for the Memorial Day weekend. Suddenly, Exit 17 of the Garden State Parkway was clogged with Sea Isle-bound traffic, while the ubiquitous summer advertising planes flew over the beaches, towing their banners.
“Traffic has been rolling onto the island since Thursday, nonstop,” Sea Isle spokeswoman Katherine Custer said. “We are very excited for the start of the Memorial Day weekend. We anticipate a wonderful weekend.”
Sea Isle will cap off the weekend with its annual Memorial Day ceremony at 10 a.m. Monday at Veterans Park at John F. Kennedy Boulevard and Landis Avenue. The event will be moved inside to the former Sea Isle City Public School at 45th Street and Park Road if it rains.
On Friday, however, there wasn’t the slightest hint of rain. With temperatures pushing into the 80s under sun-splashed skies, Sea Isle’s downtown beaches quickly began to fill up with visitors who were looking forward to a relaxing holiday weekend at the shore,
“2018 has been a long, long winter. We’re ready for some heat. The hotter, the better,” said Joe Tomchick, who was lounging on the beach with his wife, Theresa, and their friend, Shaunda Terrell.
The Tomchicks, who live in King of Prussia, Pa., and have a summer retreat in Woodbine, are longtime Sea Isle aficionados. Terrell, of Trooper, Pa., is another fan of the beach town.
“The memories of being with the locals really make it special,” Theresa Tomchick said of the Sea Isle residents. “They make you feel like home.”
Taking up another spot on the beach was a group of nearly 30 friends from Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs. The members of the group, all in their 20s, were celebrating their annual get-together in Sea Isle for the holiday weekend.
“It’s friendly, it’s fun. There’s great nightlife. There are a lot of people here our age. It’s better than Disney World,” said Jill Baldacci, 24, of Philadelphia, who served as spokeswoman for the group.
Tom and Maria Hassett, who have been vacationing in Sea Isle since 1967, were among the people buying their beach tags at the Welcome Center. They had a full schedule of activities planned for the weekend.
“We’ll be hitting the beach, going to Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church and having something to eat at the local restaurants. Then we’ll take a walk on the Promenade,” Tom Hassett said.
The Hassetts, who live in Pine Hill, N.J., and have been married for 46 years, fondly recalled bringing their children to Sea Isle for vacations when they were young. Now, their children are adults and have their own kids, representing the next generation of Hassetts to visit Sea Isle.
“I guess it’s a nice, family-oriented town,” Maria Hassett explained of Sea Isle’s allure.
At Henri’s Bar, an outdoor lounge at Braca Café, sisters Theresa and Jennifer Gillespie, both of Winslow Township, N.J., were sharing drinks and pizza with their friend, Dawn Hillen, of Maple Shade, N.J.
Asked what their holiday weekend plans included, Jennifer Gillespie laughed and replied, “We’ll fly by the seat of our pants.”
The two sisters and Hillen are part of 30 friends and family members who stay at different vacation homes in Sea Isle. Memorial Day weekend is part of an annual tradition for them.
“It’s almost like a family reunion for us,” Theresa Gillespie said. “We’ve been seeing the same 30 people for 20 years.”