By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Like so many other festivalgoers, sisters Joan McKinnon and Anita Abbonizio were tempted by the outdoor food court.
But they weren’t sure what they wanted to eat.
“It was hard to decide, because they’re all good,” McKinnon said of the array of food vendors. “Finally, we based it on how long the line was to get our food.”
With that, they bought pulled pork sandwiches and sat down to enjoy their lunch during some gorgeous sunny weather Saturday afternoon on the opening day of the Fall Family Festival, Sea Isle City’s biggest autumn event.
Whoever coined the phrase “There’s nothing to do at the shore after Labor Day” certainly wasn’t talking about the Fall Family Festival.
Besides extending the tourist season in Sea Isle beyond the traditional Labor Day cutoff, the festival helps to fill up the rental properties for another weekend and also gives local retail shops, bars and restaurants a boost in business.
“There are thousands and thousands of people here today,” Sea Isle spokeswoman Katherine Custer said. “We’re seeing many shoppers come and go with packages in hand and many, many families enjoying the amusement rides in Excursion Park.”
“We’re very grateful for some great weather from Mother Nature today and for the many people who are attending the festival. We’re looking forward to a nice autumn season,” Custer added.
A Sea Isle tradition for more than 30 years, the two-day Fall Family Festival features more than 130 vendors lining the oceanfront Promenade, a variety of free kiddie rides in Excursion Park, the outdoor food court and live music. Children also enjoyed face painting, balloon sculpting, sand art and an Arts Barn.
The festival continues Sunday with a vintage car show on the Promenade from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., followed by a parade of antique autos and trucks through town.
Also on Sunday, the city’s Environmental Commission will name the winners of its annual Beautification Awards contest for the most eye-catching landscaping and architecture at Sea Isle homes and businesses. A ceremony will be held at noon on the Promenade at John F. Kennedy Boulevard.
As part of Saturday’s festivities, vendors pitched their tents along the Promenade to transform the oceanfront walkway into a giant outdoor pedestrian mall and craft market.
Sisters Mary Fran Thompson and Agnes Smink, their niece, Annemarie Valley, and their sister-in-law, MaryBeth Suter, were on a shopping spree. They bought T-shirts, books, a dress and bracelets.
“I’m done,” Smink said of all of her shopping. She paused and then added with a laugh, “For now.”
The four women planned to take a break from shopping for lunch.
“Then we’re on our way for Part II,” Thompson said of plans for more shopping afterward.
Valley, a first timer to the festival, said she was impressed by the sheer number and variety of vendors lining the Promenade. Jewelry, clothing, home decor, arts and crafts and much more were sold at the vendor tents.
“I like how many vendors they have. They have a lot,” Valley said.
While the adults savored the shopping, the children had plenty of activities to enjoy in Excursion Park.
Aidan Denofa, 10, and his cousin, Kylie Denofa, 6, were expressing their artistic sides with paint brushes. Aidan was painting a pumpkin, while Kylie was creating a colorful version of Mickey Mouse.
“I’m painting a pumpkin because orange is my favorite color,” Aidan explained.
While concentrating on her painting of Mickey Mouse, Kylie deemed her artwork as “pretty good.”
Stephanie Denofa, who is Kylie’s mother and Aidan’s aunt, praised the festival for its family-friendly atmosphere and children’s activities.
“We do everything that we can,” Denofa said of how her family enjoys all of the attractions.