CAPE MAY — John Young took his daughter and her two friends to see a movie on the beach Thursday night, but not because the price was right — as in free.
Instead, Young, a vacationer from Valley Forge, Pa., said he liked the movie, “Field of Dreams,” and the atmosphere as more than 300 people gathered on the sand.
“It’s a nice, wholesome, family night at the beach, and I thought it was a great selection. I’ve seen it, but they haven’t seen it yet,” Young said.
His 13-year-old daughter, Brittany, was excited about seeing the baseball movie but also liked the idea of being on the beach at night. The movie began as waves crashed a short distance away and an orange moon rose on the horizon. Her friend, Catherine Masayko, 13, of Downingtown, Pa., also picked up on the reason beach movies in Cape May are so popular, drawing 350 to 1,000 people on Thursdays during the summer.
“I think it’s a good activity for a family to bond with each other,” Masayko said.
The city started showing beach movies in 2007 as the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May began a campaign to offer tourists activities that were “fun, free and family.” Businesses helped sponsor the movies, and in recent years the city has kicked in.
“When we show ‘Jaws’ in a couple weeks, we’ll have 1,000 people,” said Mayor Ed Mahaney, noting “The Sound of Music” has drawn similar crowds.
Mahaney said classic movies are picked that often draw three different generations. Parents and grandparents have seen the movies and want their children and grandchildren to enjoy them.
Some movies get the crowd dressing in costume. That happened a few years ago, when “Grease” was shown, and is expected Aug. 9, when “Pirates of the Caribbean” will be shown on a big screen set up by Cape May Convention Hall.
The event begins at 7:30 p.m. each Thursday as City Councilwoman Terri Swain leads a program for children that includes games and dances on the sand.
“We get the parents involved. Tonight it was really great because everybody got really engaged,” Swain said.
Most show up with their beach chairs as the sun sets and the movie is about to play. There is a short money pitch. The movie is free, but each week a local nonprofit is picked and moviegoers are asked to donate $1 to it. On Thursday it was Boy Scout Troop 73 of West Cape May, picked because organizers liked matching up the Boy Scouts with this particular movie.
“Isn’t it the first male tearjerker?” said Alison Bjork of the chamber.
Mahaney said people used to go to the movies and couldn’t believe it was free. Chamber member Dawn DeMayo came up with the idea of giving them the option to contribute to a worthy cause.
Troop leader Brian Favre said the money will help pay for camping trips this fall and winter.
Candy and other refreshments are sold for $1 each. DeMayo said the movies draw about 50 percent locals and 50 percent vacationers. The city no longer has a movie theater, but even when it did the beach movies drew large crowds.
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