Longer Summer, Del Sol Stores Highlighted in Washington Post
An extra week of summer for almost 900,000 kids is a boost for Ocean City
By Steve Hendrix
Not just any beach tourist will do for Eric Ashley’s shop (pictured above) on the boardwalk. His “Del Sol” storesells nail polish, jewelry and T-shirts that change color in the sun, a teen-fashion gimmick geared to customers who are usually back in math class by the end of August. Last year at this time, Ashley had already cut back on his hours and staff and begun the glide toward off-season hibernation.
But this is the year of surplus summer. On the final Wednesday of August, Ashley stood on the boardwalk with a basket of sample plastic rings and delighted in a crowd that felt more midsummer than last-gasp. Families strolled the sticky boards, school-age boys threaded the masses on rental bikes and — ka-ching — a steady stream of teenage girls who hadn’t started school yet veered into his shop.
“We’re on track to do double what we did this week last year,” said Ashley, who is keeping the shop he owns with his wife open until 11 p.m. all week to keep up with demand. “This really feels like a regular summer day.”
This is what Ocean City merchants had in mind as they and other tourist interests lobbied for more than a decade for a change in the Maryland school calendar. They got their wish when Gov. Larry Hogan (R) mandated that all 24 school districts in the state wait until after Labor Day to start classes, extending the summer by as much as two weeks for more than 880,000 students and their families. Ironically, Maryland’s switch comes the same year Virginia’s largest school system, Fairfax County, started its classes before Labor Day after obtaining a waiver from what’s known in Virginia as the Kings Dominion law.
Hogan’s move proved popular with Maryland residents, according to a Goucher College poll last year that showed more than two-thirds supported the post-Labor Day school start.
A significant number of the late-August idle spent those bonus days at the beach. Tourism officials say they won’t have the hard numbers for another month or two, but Ocean City hotels, restaurants and color-changing nail-polish vendors say the shift in the calendar has been noticeable in the full parking lots and crowded mini-golf courses.
“Previously, by mid-August it was as if someone had flipped a switch, and it was because the Maryland kids went back to school,” said Donna Abbott, Ocean City’s director of tourism and marketing.
To fill in that late season falloff, five years ago her office launched a marketing campaign targeting families in New York and New Jersey, where many schools don’t start until after Labor Day. This week, she was relieved to see so many Maryland plates amid traffic backups.