By Donald Wittkowski
Colleen Buch, owner of the Groovy Girlz boutique, received a message Friday morning on her store’s Facebook page from four customers who wanted her to know that they would be stopping in to do some shopping.
Sure enough, right around lunch time, Nancy Cingari, Debbie Crosby, Phyllis Noto and Carol Fedele strolled into Groovy Girlz on Landis Avenue as promised. They had just arrived in Sea Isle City from Stamford, Conn.
So, what prompted their nearly four-hour road trip from their Connecticut hometown? Cingari, 66, Crosby, 58, Noto, 76, and Fedele, 63, are among the aficionados of Girls Weekend, a hugely popular attraction in Sea Isle that caters to women who want to some shopping, dining and partying while the guys stay at home.
“They can get breakfast, lunch, dinner, do some shopping, take a class and get their hair done,” Buch said, ticking off some of the favorite activities during the weekend.
Cingari, Crosby, Noto and Fedele have made Girls Weekend a tradition, coming each year. They rent a house in Sea Isle for the weekend and carefully plan out all of the shops, restaurants and other places they will hit each day, including a side trip to Atlantic City for some dinner and casino gambling.
On Friday, they left Connecticut at 8:45 a.m. and pulled into Sea Isle at precisely 12:17 p.m. While in the car, they excitedly talked about all of the shopping they planned to do.
“They kept saying, ‘Are we there yet?’” Cingari said, laughing.
During one of their previous Girls Weekend shopping excursions, they bought so many things that they had to pile the bags and boxes on the floor and in the trunk of the car, Cingari explained.
Girls Weekend is held both in the spring and fall, drawing scores of out-of-town visitors to Sea Isle during what would normally be a quiet time at the Jersey Shore. All of the money that the “girls” spend at local retail shops, restaurants, bars and salons provides a significant lift to the local economy.
“It’s huge for us, for the entire city,” said Kim Gibson, owner of the historic Braca Café at the corner of John F. Kennedy Boulevard and Landis Avenue. “Each year, it’s gotten better and better and better.”
Gibson noted that his restaurant is virtually booked solid for Saturday night. Henri’s Bar, an outdoor dining and drinking area at Braca Café, had a brisk lunchtime crowd Friday. Other restaurants and bars in town are also expected to be busy throughout the weekend, Gibson said.
Gibson credited Buch, who conceived of Girls Weekend, along with Jamie Heritage, the owner of Heritage Surf & Sport in Sea Isle, for turning two weekends in the fall and spring that “were absolutely nothing into something spectacular.”
Now in its eighth season, Girls Weekend started with just 18 participating businesses in the first year. This weekend, there are 45. The businesses fly a colorful “Girls Weekend” flag at their front entrance.
All of the participating businesses offer an array of price discounts and specials as an extra incentive for customers. At Groovy Girlz, for instance, Buch is running a storewide sale of between 20 percent and 75 percent off.
At the Kiwi Boutique on Pleasure Avenue, owners Milissa and Katie Walters said Girls Weekend offers bargain hunters an opportunity to buy things that normally aren’t on sale the rest of the year.
“People are aware that they should get it now, because it won’t be on sale again,” Katie Walters said.
Kiwi Boutique is discounting its merchandise this weekend by 10 percent, but is also running a clearance sale offering 60 percent off.
Milissa Walters is expecting a surge of customers throughout the weekend. She said the Girls Weekend event in the spring is among the three busiest times of year for her store. The other two are Girls Weekend in the fall and the Fourth of July.
“I think it’s going to be incredible,” Milissa Walters said of this weekend.
Peggy Dekastrozza, one of the Kiwi Boutique customers on Friday, was experiencing her first Girls Weekend shopping excursion. She said she had heard about the event from Milissa Walters’ son.
Dekastrozza was buying some shoes and shirts. She joked that when she was driving to Sea Isle from her home in Toms River, she was thinking, “I have to control myself. Don’t spend too much.”
Dekastrozza’s drive down the Garden State Parkway was about an hour and 15 minutes. Not bad, when you compare it to the nearly four-hour journey from Connecticut made by Cingari, Crosby, Noto and Fedele.
“Ladies love Girls Weekend. They will travel for Girls Weekend,” Buch said.