OCEAN CITY, N.J. - Cynthia Donahue stopped her bike to take a sip of cool water as other cyclists whizzed by on the Ocean City Boardwalk on Monday morning. The other well-marked lanes were teeming with surrey riders, pedestrians, and joggers under a brilliant sun.
But the 42-year-old Conshohocken woman said it was nothing compared with Saturday night's all-foot traffic.
"It was mobbed," she said, describing long lines that snaked in front of Mack & Manco pizza stands and the ice cream places. "People were paying $25 to park."
Her mother, Sandra Hodge of Philadelphia, who's been coming to the Shore on Memorial Day the last seven years, said this weekend seemed to be the best turnout ever.
"Businesses can't say they didn't make money this year," Donahue piped up.
But Doug Waardenburg, 47, of Harrisburg, who was buying books at a boardwalk shop, wasn't as sure. He said traffic heading to the Jersey Shore on Friday night was very light. "I was shocked," he said.
Still, Waardenburg noticed that people strolling on the boardwalk Saturday night were forced to do "the Disney World shuffle," or a slow crawl, because of the enormous crowd.
Michele Gillian, executive director of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce and an owner of the family-run Gillian's Wonderland Pier, pointed to several indicators before judging the official kickoff of the season a big success.
"Our accommodations were full, and our second-home owners are here," she said. "Bike rentals were up, bakeries were sold out, and traffic was heavy" in the area, she said.
For the last six or so years, Ocean City officially has "opened the beach" on Memorial Day by symbolically bringing out the key, erecting the lifeguard stands, and having its business owners take a quick dip in the chilly water. More than 400 people came to watch, Gillian said.
"You can tell when it's a good Memorial Day when you have to rope off the area to keep back the crowd," she said.
The local airport also reported heavy traffic as people arrived for the weekend.
"People after that long winter were ready to come out," Gillian said. "Last year, with the economy, people stayed home, and this year they're staying close to home. For 30 million people, we're only a tankful of gas away."
The Forum motel was at full occupancy the whole weekend, said owner Phil Perry. Last year, he had a few vacancies at his 60-unit facility. "It looked and felt like August this weekend. There was a lot of excitement," he said.
Business "was unbelievable" at Congo Falls Adventure Golf, said manager John Ward. "It has everything to do with the weather, and, ah, it was good."
Justin Graham, a cashier at Atlantic Books the last four years, said the only problem was the cloudy weather Friday and Saturday. Business, he said, was "less than expected," he said, until the sun "popped out Sunday."
Ron Bensinger, 73, a retired manufacturing engineer from New Holland, Pa., said he has been visiting the Shore every summer since 1955.
"Normally, we avoid Memorial Day because of the crowd," he said. But he and his wife, Dot, were lured to Ocean City by televised ads and a hotel promotion that convinced him the time was right, he said.
"Oh, my, it looks like business is turning around," said Dot Bensinger, as people carrying their purchases breezed past them.
Contact staff writer Jan Hefler
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