By MADDY VITALE
Sun-splashed skies, live music, a mega-amount of merchandise to purchase and the scent of delectable foods, from sweets to barbecue, brought thousands of visitors to Ocean City on Saturday for the annual Spring Block Party.
Some visitors came for the first time, while others make it a family tradition to ring in spring. But no matter whether it was a first time or one in a string of many years, families were having a great time.
More than 350 crafters, food vendors and entertainers took over downtown Asbury Avenue between Fifth Street and 14th Street from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Mayor Jay Gillian said the Spring Block Party “seems to grow each year.”
“It was another great block party,” he said. “The tradition keeps getting stronger, seeing all the generations of families and the weather was perfect.”
Gillian also showed his appreciation for the staff that helped make the event a success, from city workers to members of the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce and the many merchants who participated.
“It was a great job done by all,” he said.
Lauren Emery and Kolby Carr, of Harrisburg, Pa., brought their 1-year-old son Preston for the festivities. It was obviously a first for little Preston.
“We come to the shore often,” Emery said. “My parents told us about the block party and we figured we’d take Preston.”
Carr said he was happy to make it a fun-filled family day, while also supporting local businesses.
“It’s good to shop small businesses,” he said.
Entertainers and bands performed at various spots along Asbury Avenue. There was a wide range of music styles for visitors to listen to as they browsed the vendor tables and strolled the avenue.
Chad Juros created balloon animals, and the Robert Boney Band performed some tunes at Seventh Street.
A small ensemble from the Ocean City Pops orchestra performed on the steps of City Hall, which drew a crowd of fans who took pictures and videos of their performances.
There was also a String Band at 12th Street and well-known crooner Keith Hickman at 14th Street.
And for those kids who always wanted a pony, they got the next best thing. There were pony rides on the grounds of the Ocean City Tabernacle at Sixth Street and Asbury Avenue.
Jeff Pagano, of Somers Point, brought his daughters Hattie, 5, and 3-year-old Cecilia, for the family tradition.
Pagano’s wife, Kirsten, usually comes too, but she is a nurse at AtlantiCare in the city and couldn’t make it, he said.
So, Pagano and the kids did what they could to enjoy their family tradition.
“Growing up in Ocean City, it is something we always did as a family,” he said of the block party.
The girls enjoyed playing with their balloons shaped like dachshunds and created by entertainer Chad Juros.
They also liked listening to the music.
“We like Star Wars music,” Hattie exclaimed of a performance by the Ocean City Pops of some of the scores from the epic movie “Star Wars.”
Hudson Burgess, 4, of Medford, danced away as the performers from the band Big Daddy sang some country tunes.
“He was sleepy until he heard the music. He loves to dance,” Hudson’s mother, Tara Burgess, said with a smile.
Celine Kelley, 4, of Marmora, marveled at large bubbles that Ocean City resident Rob Malfitano created as he waved a wand while working for the Boardwalk shop, Air Circus.
“She is having so much fun,” Celine’s mother, Leah Naclerio, said. “I grew up in Ocean City. The block parties are great, especially the food. We will definitely be getting some Johnson’s Popcorn.”
Paula Atwell and Marie Parent, of Wildwood Crest, enjoyed browsing some lawn ornaments.
Atwell picked up one with a sailboat.
“These are great,” she said.
“It’s a perfect day for a block party,” Parent added. “It’s a little crowded but it’s crowded for a reason.”
Sisters April Erb, of Nashville, Tenn., Karen McMichael, of Birmingham, New York, Annette Crist, of Harrisburg, Pa., and Valerie Sherwin, of Allentown, Pa., got together for a sisters’ weekend.
Saturday’s brilliant sunshine and mild temps made up for the recent days of rain, they noted.
The sisters, who grew up in Pennsylvania, visited Ocean City often as kids.
The sisters make it a point to come together to remember the days when they were kids and visit places in Ocean City they enjoyed so many years ago.
“We got our breakfast at Bob’s today, and we did some biking on the boards,” Erb said.
McMichael said the block party was great for buys and just spending time together.
“It’s just us sisters. No spouses. No kids,” she said to the laughter of her sisters.
Josie and Joel Howarth, of Northfield, brought their children Wilhelmina, 5, and 2-year-old George along for not only the block party, but a birthday party at Glazed Over, a shop on Asbury Avenue.
They also brought Josie’s best friend’s girl, Rowe Kelley, 4, and her big brother, Rhys Kelley, 5, for a walk along Asbury Avenue after celebrating Rowe’s birthday.
“It’s been a great day,” Josie said, adding that they bought some cakes and were getting ready to do some more shopping.
“My go-to shop for the kiddos is Bowfish Kids on Asbury,” she said, noting that the children’s shop would definitely top the list of stores to stop in during the block party.
“It’s a beautiful day for a block party,” Joel added.
For more information about Ocean City and its events visit oceancityvacation.com or ocnj.us.