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Maryland, Delaware resorts ride wave of commercial success

OCEAN CITY — It’s been a busy summer, and resort towns in the area are looking to continue their commercial success through the next couple of months, even after children return to school and the peak vacation season ends.

In the Bethany Beach and Fenwick area, June rentals were up as much as 50 percent from 2010 in some condominiums, and Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Carrie Subity said her observations in the beginning of August have indicated the area is busier than it has been in recent years.

Dewey Beach and Rehoboth Beach have seen healthy numbers as well, according to Carol Everhart, president of the Chamber of Commerce. She said many of the area’s resorts and businesses have reported numbers that are up from last year.

Tim Fisher, marketing manager for ResortQuest in Bethany Beach, said occupancy of the properties they rent out was up substantially from June of last year, and the occupancies in July were some of the highest they’ve had in years.

“Summer has been very good so far, and we’ve still got a couple weeks left,” Fisher said.

On a morning in early August, Melanie Pursel dropped her children off in Ocean City before heading across the Route 50 bridge to the Chamber of Commerce office, where she works as executive director.

“I could not believe, at 8:30 in the morning, how packed it was,” Pursel said.

Demoflush statistics in Ocean City — a method used to estimate population based on toilet flushes — have indicated more visitors than 2010 during weekends in all of May, June, July and the first weekend of August.

The light-on-rain and heavy-on-heat weather the area has seen for most of the summer has probably helped push people to the coast, said Susan Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association.

The coastal towns’ close proximity to a number of major metropolitan areas may be partially responsible as well, especially when the national economy is struggling, said Brent Poffenberger, owner of The Cottage Cafe, a restaurant on Route 1 in Bethany Beach.

“I think people are still going to go on vacation, but maybe they’re not going to take that big flight or long trip out west,” he said. “People seem to be going more local.”

Poffenberger’s restaurant has seen its best season this summer, he said, and he and the rest of the staff are optimistic about what the rest of the summer will hold. September is a “great month” to be at the beach that keeps getting better and better every year, he said.

“Things usually slow down when school goes into session, but we get another influx of families who have preschool children who come in for the late August and September time frame,” Subity said. “That’s a lot of people’s favorite time to come down to the beach.”

Pursel said Ocean City continues to coax visitors after school starts by putting on some special promotions, like the resort’s second hotel week of the summer, which starts Aug. 21. There have also been advertising efforts made recently to get new visitors to come to town.

“You can tell by looking at the license plates we’re getting more new people from New York and New Jersey and other places, so we’re getting people who have never tried us out before along with our returning visitors,” Purcel said.

Clare’s Keepsake & Scrapbook Cove has been hitting its target numbers so far this season, but the busy days have been random and difficult to predict, said Clare Joneckis, who owns the store, which is perched on a Bethany Beach corner lot.

“I don’t really know how to put my finger on it, but we are busy,” she said. “Some of my biggest days have been Tuesdays, so it’s just weird.”

Weather permitting, the steady business should continue, though it is difficult to predict just how busy the shore will be through September, according to Jones.

People tend to make their reservations later, she said, because they want to hold onto their dollar until “the last minute possible” to ensure they’re coming to town when forecasts predict it will be nice outside.

“We’re such a weather-dependent town, and if people are going to spend their money, they want to make sure it’s as nice as possible,” Jones said. “Some are probably also looking at their calendars, though, and realizing they need to take their vacation soon.”