By Donald Wittkowski
They had the festival. They had the families. But there was one thing missing from Sea Isle City’s Fall Family Festival – the fall.
The annual weekend festival that celebrates autumn’s arrival unfolded Saturday afternoon under sun-splashed skies and temperatures flirting with the 80s. In other words, perfect summer weather.
“I don’t like sweating in fall,” festival-goer Adrienne Squillace, of Philadelphia, said with a smile while wiping away some perspiration from her brow.
Squillace and her twin sister, Chrissy, who also lives in Philadelphia, were among thousands of people who poured into town Saturday for the opening of the festival. Known as Sea Isle’s largest fall event, the festival continues Sunday with a vintage car show on the Promenade and other family-friendly activities.
Saturday’s big crowds and gorgeous weather made it seem like a peak summer weekend. Festival-goers strolled the Promenade wearing flip-flops, shorts, T-shirts and the occasional bathing suit.
City Councilman J.B. Feeley pointed out that the festival helps to extend the tourist season in Sea Isle beyond the traditional Labor Day cutoff. Among the benefits, it helps to fill up the rental properties for another weekend and also gives local merchants a boost in business, he said.
“When you look at the summer season, it’s pretty short. Just eight to 10 weeks. But now we have another weekend to bring people to town and to show off what Sea Isle has to offer,” Feeley said.
A major part of the festival is the shopping. About 300 vendors pitched their tents along the Promenade to transform the oceanfront walkway into a giant outdoor pedestrian mall. The Squillace sisters went on a shopping spree, buying two dog collars, some cashews and pistachios and nail polish.
Adrienne Squillace, who has a summer home in Sea Isle, noted that she and her sister also bought some snowcones to cool them down in the heat.
“It’s hot. But at least it’s not raining,” she said. “I’ll take hot and sunny over rainy and windy.”
The Fall Family Festival also includes live music and free amusement rides in Excursion Park. One Sea Isle couple, Kelly and Kevin Kilroy, treated their 2-year-old son, Carter, and 8-month-old daughter, Rylie, to a day of entertainment. At one point, Kelly Kilroy put her son on her lap and took him for a ride on a big slide.
“I don’t think it can get any better than this. There’s no reason not to be here. My plan is to keep the smiles on their faces,” Kevin Kilroy said of his children.
Not to be overlooked is the festival’s array of food vendors. Maureen Vickers, a Secane, Pa., resident who has a summer home in Sea Isle, invited two of her friends, Janice Canfield, of Germantown, Md., and Trish Quinn, of Brookhaven, Pa., to join her at the festival to enjoy the food.
Vickers ate a meatball sandwich, Canfield had a pulled-pork sandwich and Quinn munched on a hotdog. Vickers and Canfield bought their sandwiches from the Hank Sauce food grill, while Quinn stopped at Bubba’s Famous Grilled Hotdogs.
“Hank’s is the best. It is great,” Canfield exclaimed.
Brian “Hank” Ruxton, owner of Hank Sauce, said he expected to sell about 300 sandwiches at his grill during the festival Saturday.
Hank Sauce also operates a restaurant on 86th Street in Sea Isle, but it is now closed for the off-season. Ruxton noted that the Fall Family Festival gives local restaurants and other businesses a lift as summer transitions into the quieter autumn months.
“The town has really helped to extend the summer season,” he said.