July Fourth weekend sets records in resorts

Lewes Chamber: People say it was the perfect storm
Traffic is backed up July 4 in Lewes. BY DENY HOWETH
July 8, 2014

Area businesses are reporting July Fourth weekend brought record sales.

"Friday was the best day we ever had," said Nick Caggiano Sr., owner of Nicola Pizza, who found sales particularly noteworthy because this year's prices are the same as last year's.

Caggiano said his restaurant sales are contingent on the weather; mid-80s brings out the pizza crowd, he said.

Other resort businesses also reported strong sales.

“Everyone was eager to get out after the rain,” said Michael Ludden, general manager of the Atlantic Sands Hotel and Conference Center in Rehoboth Beach.

The hotel was booked and two restaurants connected to it – the Atlantic Boardwalk Grill and Sand Crab Beach Bar – had the best days ever, he said. Both restaurants are newly opened, but Ludden said, they performed better than their predecessors.

Grotto Pizza in Bethany Beach had a record-setting weekend, 18 percent above past years, said Vice President Jeff Gosnear. The Ocean City store also set a record; sales in Rehoboth were extremely strong, he said.

Any time July Fourth falls on a weekend, it translates to strong sales for Grotto, he said.

“We were completely full in all of our restaurants,” Gosnear said. “We're all tired, but it's a happy tired.”

At Chip Hearn's Ice Cream Store on Rehoboth Avenue, he said, Saturday's sales were the best ever.

“It was spectacular,” he said. “Customers were happy, happy, happy.”

Hearn said there was great communication by city officials, who let tourists know what was going on. No one wondered whether fireworks would go off after the rain because a cadre of officers on the street was telling everyone that events would continue as planned.

“The communication factor was outstanding,” he said.

Hearn said a monster crowd gathered near the bandstand as the fireworks neared; he credits Corey Groll, program director for the Rehoboth Beach Bandstand, for putting together a great set of songs.

“It was unbelievable,” Hearn said. “People were out in the street dancing.”

Earlier in the day at Browseabout Books, manager Susan McAnelly said the bookstore had tremendous sales.

“We do everything we can to bring people in and buy,” McAnelly said.

The store offered a story time for children in the morning followed by a book signing by Hoda Kotb, who helped drive foot traffic to the store, she said.

In Lewes, chamber of commerce executive director Betsy Reamer said many of the businesses in her membership reported a record-breaking weekend.

"Generally, almost everybody I talked to said it was just phenomenal and record setting," she said.

As expected, all hotels were at or near full capacity the whole weekend. But the rain from Hurricane Arthur added a nice windfall for retail businesses, she said.

"I've heard people say it was the perfect storm," she said. "It was already going to be a record weekend, but then you add the rain to it. People were here, and when they can't go to the beach, they go shopping."

The parking lots of the Tanger Outlets and other Route 1 businesses were jammed Friday morning, as tourists used the dreary weather to take advantage of tax-free shopping.

The rain forced Lewes to cancel its annual boat parade in the canal and children's games on Second Street.

Mayor Ted Becker said the already-planned St. Peter's Art Show and the Historic Lewes Farmers Market played a major part in the decision to not reschedule the children's games for Saturday morning.

"There wasn't enough time in the narrow window we had to make the shift given the other things that were going on," he said.

He said the absence of the children's games may have been one of the contributing factors to the huge turnout for the Doo-Dah Parade. The impromptu parade through Lewes went on as planned, as Arthur moved out in the early afternoon.

With beautiful weather the next day, the Historic Lewes Farmers Market reported a record showing, as just board member Bonnie Osler reported a little more than 4,000 people stopped at the Lewes Historical Society complex to check out the week's offerings before setting about the rest of their day.

Fourth of July is always the biggest holiday of the year in Lewes, Reamer said, and the way this year's holiday set up just made it even bigger.

With bigger crowds comes more traffic. Route 1 southbound traffic July 5 was moving slowly from Cave Neck Road into the resort area.

"Traffic is one of the issues that we have to work through," Becker said. "Being where we're located, it's always going to be somewhat of an issue, but we have to do something to be better at managing the traffic."

At Cape Henlopen State Park, Park Administrator Pat Cooper said the number of visitors on Saturday, July 5, had to be close to record breaking, forcing officials to close the park several times during the day. A line of cars to get into the park remained until 4:30 p.m., he said.

“Friday was busy after the rain, but nothing like Saturday,” he said.

Down the road at Seashore State Park and Fenwick Island, Cooper said, the lots also were full.

“It took me two hours to get from Lewes to the inlet,” he said.

Even with the large numbers of people converging at the state parks, Cooper said, there were no major incidents.

“Usually when you get that many people there is something that happens,” he said.

Officers wrote some tickets, but it was nothing out of the ordinary, Cooper said.