By Donald Wittkowski
Their friendship dates to when they were 5-year-old kindergarten students at the Good Shepherd School in Philadelphia.
On Saturday, lifelong friends Lynne Gallagher, Kathy McCourt, Peggy Tregear, Maureen Ginnane and Diane Kennedy were spending a “girls weekend” together to celebrate their upcoming 50th birthdays.
Make that a “Girls Weekend” – with capital letters.
All five of them were in Sea Isle City for some shopping, dining and partying for the annual spring Girls Weekend celebration that lets women ditch their husbands and boyfriends for a carefree and fun escape to the Jersey Shore.
Shopping bags in hand, Gallagher, McCourt, Tregear, Ginnane and Kennedy were strolling along Landis Avenue, soaking up a gorgeous spring day and deciding which stores to hit next. They had already bought clothing, shoes, jewelry and sunglasses.
“The last time we have been away together from our families was Senior Weekend in Wildwood,” Kennedy recalled, noting that was way back in 1987 when they were 18.
All of them live in either New Jersey or Pennsylvania. With their milestone 50th birthdays coming this year, the five friends chose Sea Isle as their getaway destination for some bonding and celebrating. This was their first Girls Weekend together.
Girls Weekend allows Sea Isle merchants to cater to women shoppers and generate extra business during a time of year when things usually slow down at the shore. The popular event showcases the business community and has helped establish Sea Isle as a year-round shopping destination.
“The overall benefit of Girls Weekend is that all businesses are full. It really spreads across all businesses,” said Christopher Glancey, president of the Sea Isle City Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization.
Glancey pointed out that retail shops, bars, restaurants and rental properties get a big boost from the weekend event. Without it, Sea Isle would be “very quiet” this time of year, he said.
Each April and November, the Sea Isle Chamber of Commerce welcomes women to town for Girls Weekend. Shopping discounts and drink and meal specials at nearly 40 participating businesses provide an extra incentive for the women to visit the city.
Glancey staged a wine tasting Saturday evening at his Diamonds Liquor store on Landis Avenue in one of the many Girls Weekend-themed events throughout town.
For the women, there is also a big social component to Girls Weekend. After they are done visiting the stores, they often spend a relaxing evening together having drinks and dinner and hitting the dance floor.
As he does each year, Mayor Leonard Desiderio promotes Girls Weekend by throwing a pajama party for women on Saturday morning at his Kix-McNutley’s bar and nightclub complex on 63rd Street and Landis Avenue.
Meanwhile, business owners throughout Sea Isle were preparing for a big turnout over the weekend. The shops, bars and restaurants that are participating in the event fly a colorful “Girls Weekend” flag at their front entrance.
“We’re doing fabulous,” said Liz Essick, owner of the Sunsations boutique on John F. Kennedy Boulevard. “Everybody is excited to see our spring merchandise.”
Essick was also clearing out older stock with a 50 percent sale. Waves of customers swept through her store looking for bargains and spring outfits and accessories.
At one point, Essick spun around to reveal the back of her jacket that playfully touted Sea Isle City as right up there with the great fashion centers of the world. In order, it listed the cities of New York, London, Paris, Milan and Sea Isle.
Women were also enjoying themselves at Sea Isle’s bars and restaurants. A group of eight women from Pennsylvania consisting of mothers and their daughters sipped Bloody Marys while relaxing at the bar at O’Donnell’s Pour House on Landis Avenue.
One of the women, Holly Zanine, of Upper Moreland, Pa., said they did some shopping first and then stopped in at an exercise class for a workout before deciding to have a Bloody Mary. More fun was planned Saturday night.
“Tonight, we’re going dancing at the Oar House,” Zanine said of the pub-style restaurant on 42nd Place.
When asked whether their husbands and boyfriends mind staying at home while the women party in Sea Isle, they smiled.
“My husband said, ‘You need it. You need to get away with the girls,”’ said Nicole Karnash, of Harrisburg, Pa.
Girls Weekend wraps up on Sunday. A complete list of participating stores as well as specials can be found at www.seaislechamber.com.