The future is now for Sunfest.
The marquee Ocean City event returned over the weekend with a new open-air layout and though attendances was slightly down from 2019, event planners received heaps of praise for the new layout.
“Almost everybody had their best show ever,” City Special Events Director Frank Miller said. “We had a great event. The public was very pleased with the layout. On the north side of the venue, it felt more like an open craft market. They were able to enjoy that experience.”
This year, 295,857 people attended Sunfest as compared to 317,419 in 2019. The slight downtick, however, is consistent with similar events all over the country during the covid-19 pandemic.
But the new layout did help allay some of those covid concerns, Miller said.
“Some people are still very cautious about entering a crowd and enclosed area and open aisles created a comfort level,” he said. “And it changed how they walked the event, up and down aisles on both sides instead of getting caught in the crowd of the old tents feeling like they were being pushed along. They could slow down and take in everything that they were seeing. They were herded like cattle in old tents.”
Miller added that on Friday, the festival’s peak, many of the vendors he heard from said it wasn’t just their best day of Sunfest, it was their best day of any festival.
Roz Menton, owner of Long Island-based Creative Southwest Designs, borrowed from famed sociologist Emile Durkheim to describe the atmosphere as having a “collective efflorescence.”
“That kind of explained everything,” said Menton, who along with her husband has worked around 10 Sunfests and 20 Springfests. “The sun, everything about the show was so wonderful. We’ve all struggled for so long and it was just like a turning point for me to see so many people so happy and having a good time, just a beautiful weekend.”
Newcomers left feeling that they’ve secured a new, lucrative revenue stream.
“That Sunfest just surprised me. I didn’t realize how big it was and just how exciting it is. I thought we were going to run out of brochures,” said Bruce Henschen of Baltimore County-based MegapixArt, which specializes in applying images on gloss-metal surfaces.
“Whenever somebody asks how do we do it on metal, we spend five minutes (showing them) with blanks. I felt that’s what Sunfest wanted us to do, educate people on the very unique and cool process of (what we do).”
Looking ahead, with Sunfest’s popularity — despite the lower turnout — clearly on the rise, Miller said he’s still considering ways to expand, as he has said in years past.
“The problem I’ve got is I’m very reigned in or limited on where I have electric, gas lines, water lines,” Miller said. “Trying to expand south into the parking lot would make things very difficult with installations of conduits and hookups. It’s not feasible at this time.”
Aside from about a 60-foot expansion to the south, Miller said the new layout stayed within the same footprint as the old while making better use of that space.
Judging the event’s success, in spite of the successful innovations, Miller said any Sunfest’s success ultimately comes down to the weather.
“Good weather was the key variable. Without that I couldn’t have done any myriad of things and not have the results I had,” Miller said. “Credit goes to all the town departments whom I put under stress with the new layout. I took the comfort zone away from everybody — Public Works, Parks, police, Special Events department—and now it’s a quick turnaround to prepare for (Endless Summer) Cruisin’.”