By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Darlene Scarduzio made no secret of the fact that she has spent some summer days on the beaches of Sea Isle City without having a beach tag.
No, she didn’t quickly run into the ocean to avoid the beach tag inspectors on those days.
There is one day each week when Sea Isle’s normally ubiquitous inspectors aren’t about to swoop in to have beachgoers cough up $5 for a daily beach tag. On Wednesdays, they are nowhere to be found.
For more than 25 years, Sea Isle has had free beach days on Wednesdays as a way to attract visitors. Although not everyone is aware of it, Scarduzio said she has known about the perk and has taken advantage of it on some Wednesdays.
“It’s great. It’s like a treat,” she said in an interview Wednesday while lounging on the beach with a group of six family members and friends.
Scarduzio, who lives in Springfield, Pa., is spending the week on vacation in Sea Isle. This year, she has a beach tag, but in the past she has enjoyed some money-saving beach tag free Wednesdays.
“That adds up, especially when you have a whole family,” she said.
Not having to pay $5 for a daily beach tag on Wednesdays allows people to spend their money on other things.
“It’s more money to spend on ice cream,” Claudia Calabro, of Trenton, a member of Scarduzio’s group, said with a laugh.
The free beach days were the idea of the late Irene Jameson, Sea Isle’s legendary former public relations director. Jameson also conceived of Sea Isle’s annual Polar Bear Plunge, a wildly popular event that draws tens of thousands of visitors to town in February for a weekend of partying, dining and shopping, culminating with a chilly dip in the ocean.
Katherine Custer, Sea Isle’s public information officer, said the free beach days are particularly popular with school groups and summer camps that are looking to save some money.
“Wednesdays are popular for a number of reasons. In addition to school groups and other organizations that come to Sea Isle City for a free day on the beach, Wednesdays are also popular with families who day trip from the city or nearby suburbs,” Custer said.
“But regardless of the day of the week, our lifeguards are on duty every day from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day, and we remind all beachgoers that they should only enter the water on protected beaches while lifeguards are on duty. Saving money on beach fees is a great thing, but nothing can replace safety,” Custer added.
Sea Isle also sells seasonal and weekly beach tags. Those tags are favored by visitors taking extended vacations. The $5 daily beach tags are usually purchased by Sea Isle’s day-trippers. For that reason, the free beach days are especially popular among the day-trippers.
There is one exception to Wednesdays that are free beach days. If the Fourth of July falls on a Wednesday, beachgoers still have to pay for a tag.
Beach tag sales generate about $1.4 million in annual revenue for Sea Isle. The revenue covers the cost of keeping the beaches clean, collecting the trash, employing lifeguards and hiring summer police officers.
Sea Isle officials estimate the city loses out on a couple thousand dollars of beach tag revenue during the free beach days over the entire summer. But for the amount of goodwill it does, it is certainly worth it, they say.
Brian Love, a visitor from King of Prussia, Pa., had no idea that he didn’t need a beach tag on Wednesday.
When he first arrived in Sea Isle, he thought it was curious that there were no beach tag inspectors stationed at the entrance to the beaches on Wednesday.
“When we walked up, I said, ‘What is the point of bringing our beach tags when no one is there to check us?’” he said.
Love, who was joined on the 43rd Street beach by a group of friends from Pennsylvania, suggested that Sea Isle should heavily advertise the free beach days to draw even more people to town on Wednesdays.
“They’ve been doing this for over 25 years?” he said, quizzically. “I never knew.”