By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
It was 2019 all over again at the Skimmer Festival.
Sea Isle City’s signature summertime event that traditionally attracts thousands of visitors to town returned to its full-blown version Saturday after a two-year hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Maskless crowds packed the Promenade for shopping at hundreds of vendors lining the oceanfront walkway, children enjoyed free amusement rides in Excursion Park and families grabbed a bite to eat at an outdoor food court.
This was the first time the city was able to hold the entire event since 2019. The vendors, amusement rides and food court all had to be canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to crowd restrictions and COVID fears while the pandemic raged.
In the last two years, Sea Isle held an abbreviated version of the festival that included a sidewalk sale by local businesses and an antique car show that was spread out along the Promenade to create enough room for social distancing.
The car show returns this Sunday for Father’s Day to wrap up the two-day festival, which takes its name from the wide-brimmed, straw skimmer boating hats that were popular with men during Victorian days.
The festival’s origins date to 1963, a year after a monstrous storm devastated the Jersey Shore. At that time, Sea Isle hoped to persuade tourists that the beach resort was in recovery mode and ready to begin welcoming visitors again, so the Skimmer Festival was created.
Although the Victorian-era skimmer hats are obviously out of style now, the festival continues to embrace old-fashioned, family-style fun reminiscent of Sea Isle’s days as a genteel seaside retreat in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
“We’re excited that it’s back. It’s family friendly. They have something for everybody,” said Kelly Albany, a Sicklerville, N.J., resident who has been attending the festival ever since her 13-year-old daughter, Abby, was a baby.
Albany and her 10-year-old daughter, Hannah, were having a great time Saturday while enjoying the amusements and live music at Excursion Park.
Hannah was transformed into a fairy princess by a face painter at the festival. The silvery face paint glittered in the sunshine.
“It’s fun to go on the rides and to listen to the music with family,” Hannah said.
Shopping was another major attraction at the festival. Hundreds of vendor tents stretched along the Promenade. Jewelry, clothing, artwork, novelty items and much more were all being sold.
Merrick Adams and her mother, Betty Sue Adams, of Cape May Court House, were doing some shopping while experiencing their very first Skimmer Festival. They were joined by their friends, Christina Katkocin and her mother, Rose Katkocin, who live in Berlin, N.J., and have a summer place in Sea Isle.
“It feels good just being out,” Merrick Adams said of the crowds. “It’s the people. It’s nice to see so many people.”
Christina and Rose Katkocin, who have been to Skimmer weekend before, invited Merrick and Betty Sue Adams to the festival to see what it was all about.
“For our first time, it’s nice,” Betty Sue Adams said.
Philadelphians Amber Doll and her fiancé, Nick Alfier, who were also first timers at the festival, hit the food court just minutes after arriving at Skimmer.
Both of them were eating sausage sandwiches that they said were comparable to the delicious sausage sandwiches in Philly.
“We love it,” Alfier said of the food and the festival.
Skimmer Festival Weekend jump starts the local economy as Sea Isle transitions from being a small town of about 2,100 year-round residents into a bustling vacation resort packed with tens of thousands of visitors during the summer months.
“Skimmer has a very big draw and impact,” city spokeswoman Katherine Custer said. “It spotlights Sea Isle City in a very positive way. It’s very family friendly. It attracts people from near and far.”