WILDWOOD - The Boardwalk Kennel Club's All-Breed Dog Show opened competition on Wednesday at the Wildwoods Convention Center.
The show brings 5,000 dogs, their owners, handlers, groomers and vendors to the convention center each winter for five days of competition.
Organizer Susan Shomo, of Westville, Gloucester County, said thousands of dog lovers and fans attend the annual show in Wildwood to watch the competitions and buy something nice for their own pets.
The resort is a good fit for the convention, she said.
"There is plenty of parking and hotels and restaurants. It has it all down here," said Shomo, president of the Boardwalk Kennel Club of Cape May County. "The Wildwoods Convention Center is beautiful. Some of these dogs have never seen the beach."
For hotels, restaurants and stores on the island, the show and other conventions like it are a welcome boost for the doldrums of January when the local economy shrinks with the mercury.
Days Inn & Suites makes an exception to welcome dogs during the show, said assistant manager Helen Horner, of Wildwood Crest.
The convention makes a noticeable difference in bookings, she said.
"We're one of the few properties that are open year round. Having these conventions is essential for Wildwood to offer a clean, wonderful place to stay in the off-season," she said.
"We've had years where we're 100 percent full. We should be nearly sold out for the rooms we keep open year-round," she said.
Her first guests started arriving on Tuesday for this week's competition.
"We only allow pets for this event. It's a wonderful human-interest event, seeing all the different breeds of dogs," she said.
Artist Sara England, of Frederick, Md., has a booth at the convention where she is selling prints, coasters and cheese boards with her dog-themed artwork.
"I draw the dogs true to the breed but it's always in a whimsical setting," she said.
This is England's first show in Wildwood, but she is expecting a good crowd despite the weather and the time of year.
"The pet industry has been booming. We do pet expos and dog-show people will come out, even in the snow," she said.
Julie Catlett, of Degen, Va., groomed a German shepherd named Sophie that won Best of Breed on Wednesday. Sophie was named best German shepherd in Australia and will compete at the Westminster Dog Show in New York later this year.
Catlett said she enjoys coming to Wildwood, where she eats at local restaurants and stays at a nearby hotel, the Blue Palms Resort.
"A lot of places here are dog-friendly in the off-season," she said.
The Kennel Club show is one of just three major conventions for Wildwood in January and February, including a wrestling tournament that brings 1,000 athletes and their families to town, an indoor soccer tournament with 4,000 players, and a major cheerleading competition after that, said John Siciliano, executive director of the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority.
"Businesses that are open this time of year count on these events," he said. "Hotels, restaurants, gas stations - they all get a benefit."
Siciliano, a dog person, said the Kennel Club show has grown in its 14 years in Wildwood.
"Having a four-night, five-day show is awesome for us," he said.
Businesses such as the Esplanade Suites, a hotel on Taylor Avenue, pay close attention to the convention center's winter event schedule.
"I have three weekends in a row that do really well for us because of the conventions," said Manager Denise Palek, of Wildwood.
Her 31-room dog-friendly hotel near the center is open year round, but sees only a fraction of its summer business this time of year, she said.
"Something is better than nothing. You leave the doors open," she said.
Palek said the Kennel Club's show is a reliable source of revenue in the off-season. But while she is a dog owner, she has never seen the show in person. She is allergic to most dogs.
"I can't go in there," she said.
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If you go
The Boardwalk Kennel Club's All-Breed Dog Show continues 8 a.m. today through Sunday at the Wildwoods Convention Center. Tickets are $8 for adults, $5 for senior citizens and $2 for children 12 and under.