By Donald Wittkowski
One of the fallacies about the Jersey Shore is that every beach town along the 127-mile coastline goes completely dead the moment the Labor Day weekend is over.
Sure, things quiet down once the throngs of summer vacationers thin out, but anyone who thinks the shore turns into a gigantic ghost town would have been surprised Saturday at the start of the Fall Family Festival in Sea Isle City.
Thousands packed the oceanfront Promenade and Excursion Park for a day of food, entertainment and children’s amusements. Shoppers had their choice of 350 vendors selling clothes, shoes, jewelry, crafts and other items at off-season prices.
The festival wraps up Sunday with an antique car show on the Promenade and free trolley rides showcasing local landmarks and Sea Isle’s history.
Saturday’s big turnout seemed comparable to a regular summer weekend. Parking spaces were filled along the John F. Kennedy Boulevard entryway into town. Some stretches of the beachfront were crowded with sunbathers who capitalized on the gorgeous weather.
There are no parking charges or beach tags in Sea Isle after Labor Day, giving visitors some money-saving perks during the shoulder season.
Shaina Gaynor, of Linwood, who was at the festival with her family, called this time of year “locals summer.”
“I think the crowds are mostly gone and we are able to enjoy the beautiful weather and take advantage of the many other things the island has to offer,” she said.
Gaynor was joined by her husband, Tom, her 3-year-old daughter, Brynn, and her baby daughter Lacey. Her father, Gregg Taylor, of Cape May Court House, operated a photo booth at the festival.
The Gaynors planned their trip to Sea Isle around the festival. Shaina Gaynor said she was surprised to find so many people in town when they arrived.
“I thought it would be a smaller festival,” she said while waiting for her daughter Brynn to finish playing on one of the kiddie amusements in Excursion Park.
Festival-goers were confronted with an array of food choices. There were big signs for hamburgers, hotdogs, French fries, crab cakes and other goodies that tempted the palate.
Mindy Gebert and her daughter, Jill, settled on a pulled pork nacho. Greg Gebert, Mindy’s husband, munched on a hotdog and jokingly complained that it would destroy his waistline.
The Geberts, of Pennsburg, Pa., have owned a summer home in Sea Isle for 30 years. Mindy Gebert said her family attends the fall festival every year because it is one of the events that defines Sea Isle’s family-friendly atmosphere.
“I like the small-town charm,” she said.
The Fall Family Festival kicks off a string of special events in Sea Isle this autumn and winter continuing right up to the holidays.
“There is a very strong effort to hold shoulder-season events every weekend,” city spokeswoman Katherine Custer said.
Upcoming major events include the Irish Festival Weekend on Sept. 23-25, Harborfest on Oct. 1 and Octoberfest on Oct. 22. This year, the Sea Isle City Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization has added a new Holiday Stroll event on Dec. 10 to attract shoppers to the downtown business district, Custer said.
“The city works in harmony with the business community to make this a welcoming environment during spring, summer and fall,” she said.
While thoughts may already be turning to fall and winter, there were some people Saturday who were enjoying a summer-like beach day just steps from the festival.
“It’s fantastic,” said Patty Gonoude as she soaked up the sun with her friend, Tanya McGurl.
Gonoude, of King of Prussia, Pa., and McGurl, of Paoli, Pa., had been planning a beach trip to Sea Isle over the Labor Day weekend, but were scared off then by threats of a tropical storm hitting the shore.
On Saturday, they found a spot on the beach at the tip of John F. Kennedy Boulevard, sharing the sand with a surprisingly large number of fellow sunbathers.
“You couldn’t ask for anything better,” Gonoude said.