Shoulder season arrives

Labor Day marks the beginning of between time bridging one summer and the next. The Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce hopes to convince out-of-towners that the September-to-May spell is not the ‘off-season.’ Rather, the chamber wants potential visitors to take the business community’s word for it: ‘shoulder.’

“The shoulder-season starts [after Labor Day] and runs as long as we can keep it running,” said Karen McGrath, executive director of the chamber. “The idea is to keep bringing people in as long as we can so the hotels are filled and the restaurants are filled, and the businesses keep making money. The weather here is so nice, especially in the fall.”

Tourists should not freeze out the Delaware shores as soon as the temperature turns too cold for swimming, surfing and sunbathing, McGrath said. The chamber sponsors and promotes a lineup of attractions — from viewing birds to shooting birdies — to lure shoulder-season vacationers, many of whom own second homes here.

The chamber’s campaign begins with research, McGrath said. After determining the appropriate audiences to target, the organization places ads with niche publications in the Philadelphia and Washington D.C. areas.

The business association’s list of fall affairs this year comprises: The Bethany Beach Boardwalk Arts Festival, Sept. 10; The Fall Surf-fishing Tournament, Oct. 8-9; The Fall Golf Outing at the Bayside Resort Golf Club; and the Selbyville Christmas Parade, Sept. 2.

“Shoulder-season events and advertising certainly aren’t anything new. It’s been going on for a longtime,” McGrath said. “But we have become more sophisticated in doing it. For example, this is the 26th year for the fall fishing tournament. The way it’s structured, participants have to be here all (Columbus Day) weekend.”

Proudly championing a cooperativeness that would make the Three Musketeers proud — all for one and one for all — the chamber also boosts unaffiliated functions, such as Coast Day, Oct. 2, at the University of Delaware Hugh R. Sharp Campus, and The Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival, Nov. 9-13. The Southeastern Delaware Artists Studio Tour, Nov. 25-26, furthermore, presents a wonderful opportunity to get a creative jumpstart on holiday shopping, McGrath said.

As for supplementing the bigger draws, the chamber sees Sussex County as a prime destination for nuptials.

Weddings spread spending throughout the commercial community, unlike some other events, McGrath said, because martial parties require a venue, hotel rooms, flowers, tables, gifts and catering services.

“People who want to have weddings at the beach, we want them to have it here,” McGrath said. “One wedding maybe brings a hundred people in from out of town.”

Eco-tourism, the chamber notes, constitutes a growing shoulder-season sector. Nearby bird-spotting hot spots, for example, such as the Assawoman State Wildlife Area, make Sussex County a great place for avian enthusiasts.

“This area is perfect for that. We have so many little waterways and canals,” McGrath said. “People who are coming to go birding would generally want to come in the spring and the fall anyway.”

The golf season also extends past Labor Day, McGrath said, and the Bethany-Fenwick area is hardly missing links.

“There’s some good golf down here,” McGrath said. “And it’s centrally located (between Philadelphia and Washington D.C.). If you want to go away for a golf outing, you can be here in a couple hours and be around the greens the same day.”

With prices at the pumps hitting record highs, McGrath does not expect gas costs to prevent vacationers from coming to Sussex County. Rather, the central location may make the area a more affordable option for people who would otherwise travel to farther destinations.

“Gas prices are certainly a concern. They’re a concern to me,” McGrath said. “I think that if someone decided to get away for a weekend, that makes us a better destination because you can get here on less money than you can to say the Outer Banks (N.C.).”