OCEAN CITY, Md. — Overcast skies, cool temperatures and showers didn’t dampen the spirit of business owners and tourists on the Ocean City Boardwalk during Memorial Day weekend.
After more than a year of dealing with COVID-19, Americans were eager to head to the beach and feel a sense of normalcy after such an abnormal period that meant missing so many summer favorite things to do.
Businesses in Ocean City reported seeing large crowds in town throughout the week leading into the holiday weekend.
For the first time in more than a year the Ocean City Boardwalk was packed with largely maskless Americans enjoying themselves.
Some visitors were lounging out on the beach, despite the overcast skies. Others were feeding the seagulls, indulging in some Fisher’s Popcorn, Thrasher’s French fries or other seasonal treats, and embracing a more normal start to summer after more than a year of lockdown and restrictions.
The crowds during Memorial Day weekend were a welcome sight, said Les Morris, general manager at Thrasher’s French Fries.
“It’s been a couple years since we’ve had crowds come in like this with the whole pandemic,” Morris said.
Getting back to pre-pandemic times has been a bit of an adjustment for Morris and his staff, but it feels like the region is finally getting back to normal, he said.
Some tourists waiting in the line to get Thrasher’s fries still could be seen wearing masks, and Morris said he welcomes any staff member who wants to wear a face covering. He still makes them available to his team if they ask for one, he said.
Large crowds of visitors have been in Ocean City all week and Morris didn’t expect the rain to dampen anything, he said.
He added, jokingly, “Mother Nature has to play her part in what Ocean City does.”
“People want to get out from Memorial Day weekend,” Morris said. “If it rains, you get some showers, people duck into the arcades and all the breezeways or run to get something to eat and then rain stops, and people come back out.”
The rain helped businesses like Sportland Arcade on the Boardwalk, said manager Marley Auker.
When it rains people normally go to arcades, miniature golf or other attractions that are indoors, Auker said.
The weekend’s showers add onto an already busy spring for the arcade, which only adds to Auker’s hope that this summer will be strong, she said.
The possibility of rain during part of Memorial Day holiday had been in weather forecasts for much of the week leading into the weekend, and most tourists didn’t seem bothered by it.
Despite the conditions, many said they were just happy to be out on vacation after a year of lockdowns, social distancing and COVID-19 protocols.
Evelyn and Rich Melius, a couple from Pennsylvania on vacation with their granddaughter, joked it always seems to rain when they visit Ocean City. The couple has gotten used to it and said it wouldn’t change their plans.
The Melius didn’t come to Ocean City last year due to the pandemic but returned in 2021 because their granddaughter wanted to go to the beach, Evelyn said.
“I think some people are a little uneasy, but I mean hopefully things are changing and we’re ready to go back to normal, whatever normal is,” Evelyn said.
As a member of the healthcare field, Evelyn has seen conditions with COVID-19 improve and hopeful about the future, she said.
Sitting at a table next to Thrasher’s French Fries, Evelyn and Rich said this weekend was the first time they had been in such a large, maskless crowd.
All the uncovered faces didn’t seem to bother the couple who had been in town since Tuesday and already were planning their trip for next summer.
It’s been an adjustment for Haley Oeur and her family to see so many people not wearing masks, she said.
Oeur and her family from northern Virginia brought their masks with them on vacation and had them readily assessable Friday as they were walking around the Boardwalk.
“It’s a little bit weird to see a crowd without masks because especially in our area, I don’t know if this is the way for most of the country, a lot of people do actually wear masks, so it does feel weird,” Oeur said.
The Oeurs visit Ocean City at least once a year, and being back in 2021 felt good, Oeur’s father said. Conditions aren’t completely back to normal yet, but things are moving in that direction, he added.
“It’s good to see the crowds. It’s good to see people and business pick back up,” Oeur’s father said.