First Night 2013 offers family-friendly fun

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Submitted / Members of the business community and city officials announce that the city is open and serving its visitors in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Submitted / Members of the business community and city officials announce that the city is open and serving its visitors in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.

OCEAN CITY — A few days after Hurricane Sandy flooded Ocean City, leaving a soggy, destructive mess, it looked as though First Night 2013 might not happen.

After all, the ocean met the bay, decimating much of the island, particularly the business community. Yet as the water receded, the community pulled together to clean and restore America’s Greatest Family Resort and organizers decided that the show must go on.

First Night director Michele Gillian acknowledged that the New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day extravaganza was briefly in jeopardy due to extensive storm damage. Thankfully, the town bounced back quickly, she said, because it needs the event now more than ever.

“First Night is one of our premier events,” Gillian said, adding that she hopes that the non-alcoholic celebration of the New Year helps to “bring some normalcy back” to a community shattered by the worst storm in more than a century.

“People have been working night and day to get their homes and businesses back in shape,” she said. “It’s been very difficult. This year, First Night will be very important. We all need to have some fun; we realize how important the Ocean City community and the community spirit is.”

Gillian said that spirit was evident when Santa Claus arrived on the roof of City Hall on Black Friday. What has traditionally been a warm, welcoming event was even more so this year because the community rallied, she said.

“We have a great Ocean City spirit. It’s very special and people are really appreciating that,” she said.

First Night kicks off at 4 p.m. on Dec. 31 with the Hegerman String Band at the Music Pier, Boardwalk and Moorlyn Terrace. Later, Trout Fishing in America and Tommy Cash, brother of the late Johnny Cash, will perform.

Across the island, in 15 venues including churches, schools and municipal buildings, there will be magicians, puppeteers, karaoke, Japanese drummers, comedy shows, big band orchestras, Doo Wop performers, story tellers, the Turtle Singers, Broadway by Request and folk music.

There are more than 60 events to choose from. The Ocean City Pops will entertain; the Ocean City Theatre Company is performing “Three Bears, the Musical” and an “Oh What a Night” tribute. Andrew Hink will tickle the ivories, Fred Miller and Ken Cooper will talk about Ocean City history. You can design your own New Year’s hat, dance to the Fabulous Grease Band, play miniature golf or ride the rides at Gillian’s Wonderland Pier.

At midnight, there will be a fireworks display on the beach at Sixth Street to welcome in 2013.

City publicist Mark Soifer says First Night is a safe, fun and – at $15 for an all-inclusive button – an economical way to spend New Year’s Eve in a resort that has devoted itself to hosting families and vacationers since 1879.  

“It’s a really good thing given the hurricane that we are going to be able to have it,” he said. “A lot of good things are going on. It’s the best entertainment value on the Jersey Shore. Where can you take a family of four out for eight hours of entertainment for only $15 each?”

Soifer said the storm has changed a few of the venues. With the Ocean City Food Cupboard flooded out of St. Peter’s United Methodist Church, the city Civic Center, which was scheduled to host an assortment of inflatable attractions, is being utilized to help feed the hungry. So a tent will be erected nearby to host the carnival.

“We are lucky, with all the damage, we had that we just had to make that one change,” Soifer said.

Sandy may affect the event in one other way, he said. First Night has what’s known as an Angel Fund for those who otherwise could not afford the cost of a button.

“This year, given the storm and the economic impact, with a lot of people out of work, we may have more people needing help,” he said. “We’re happy to help, we never turn anyone away.”

The proceeds of First Night, Soifer noted, are donated to local charities.

“It’s a really nice event,” he said. “It’s all about families, and having fun in a safe atmosphere.”

First Day at the Beach on New Year’s Day begins with games and activities on the beach and a 5K run on the boardwalk at 1 p.m., followed by the annual First Dip, a polar plunge near the Music Pier at 2 p.m. Last year, over 1,000 people jumped in the ocean and 500 people competed in the run.

The first First Night in 1993 attracted 1,000 people, Soifer said. Last year, the event sold out at more than 10,000. This year, he said, event organizers have no expectations of setting any records.

“So much has happened,” he said. “We’re just glad to be able to go ahead and host it. It may not be the biggest, but it will be a very special First Night. It continues to gain steam, and if the weather is nice, we could have more than 20,000 people on the beach on First Day.

“First Night attracts a lot of second homeowners, it’s very good for all of our local businesses,” he said. “People come down and go shopping and they go out to eat.”

Gillian said First Night has become a very big tradition in Ocean City, with second homeowners coming through big on New Year’s Eve. It will be a big shot in the arm for the local economy, she said.

“It’s always exciting to see all these people on the boardwalk, on First Night and First Day,” she said. “Our second homeowners like our old-fashioned Christmas, our atmosphere. They feel like they are a part of our community. Many have an entire second life here, they want to retire here; they want to be here. They come down and get away from everything. They love Ocean City.

“Every year we see a lot of new people because their friends who have homes here recommend that they come down. They’re making memories to last a lifetime, that’s what Ocean City is about, and they all want to be a part of it,” she said.

“This is going to be a big year for Ocean City,” she said. “We hope to see a lot of our local families.”

First Night buttons are available at www.firstnightocnj.com or at Stainton’s Square in the 800 block of Asbury Avenue.

Shown above are:  Jim Mallon, city director of community services; Mark Soifer, public relations director; Michele Gillian, Chamber of Commerce executive director; Wes Kazmarck, Jody Levchuck, Adam Waxman and Brian Hartley, boardwalk merchants; Sally Huff, city tourism commission member, and Skip Tolomeo, president of the Retail Merchants Association.


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