Character Night a big success, merchants say

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OCEAN CITY — It’s called a passport, but it won’t take you to any exotic foreign locales.

It will, however, provide an exciting evening on the Ocean City Boardwalk, according to the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce. After all, where else can you see a bunch of “characters” riding surreys down the boardwalk?

Ocean City passport books are part of a new event in America’s Greatest Family Resort known as Character Night. Sponsored by Gillian’s Wonderland Pier and Manco and Manco Pizza, with the assistance of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, the passport books are available for free for children. The festivities have been held every Sunday night through Aug. 19 on the boardwalk beginning at 7 p.m.

Modeled after similar events at Disney World, more than a dozen characters from local businesses hang out at the Music Pier to sign autographs in passport books, which are given to children.

The characters include a pixie fairy and a mermaid, some recognizable mascots like Martin Z. Mollusk, Wonder Bear and Mr. Peanut, and some new faces, including Johnny Popcorn, Johnson’s Popcorn’s new mascot. Jilly’s sports a large container of French fries and Congo Falls, a humongous gorilla.

A zombie, courtesy of the new Ocean City Zombie House, is not the favorite of smaller children, but is a huge attraction for older children.

“So we have something for everyone,” said Michele Gillian, executive director of the chamber. “Not many younger kids like the zombie, but the older kids love it. The whole event has worked out very nicely for families. There’s something for everyone.”

The small passport book provides lots of pages for autographs, as well as an activity that takes children and their families on a tour of the boardwalk to visit shops and restaurants.

“The kids really like it,” Gillian said. “It’s lots of fun. For a brand new event, it’s really catching on. The kids can take the book to all of the stores and they get a stamp. When they have the book filled with stamps, they can go to the Surf Mall and get a free T-shirt.”

Merchants, of course, benefit from the extra attention focused on individual stores, but Gillian said the participants enjoy the scavenger hunt type of activity.

“It’s a great way to experience all of the different places in Ocean City,” Gillian said. 

Many folks, she said, are new to the boardwalk and it’s a great way to introduce them to all that it has to offer. Others have been on the boards many times, but have overlooked some places.

The characters perform a “meet and greet” for about a half hour, Gillian said. Then at 7:30, the characters board colorful surreys and lead a parade down the boardwalk.

“Then they go back to their individual stores, and people stop and visit them,” she said.  “The whole idea of promoting this is to get people up and out, and onto the boardwalk.

“The kids, at a young age, develop a nice rapport with the merchants,” Gillian said.

Most of the stores hand out small gifts to children with the passport books.

“The passport book is a nice souvenir. It’s not just the gift, it’s starting a tradition,” she said.

This Sunday will be the last Character Night for the summer.

“We’re going to expand this next year, I’m sure,” Gillian said.

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