SOMERS POINT — Sisters Jennifer Broadbent and Pamela Wertz wandered along the blocks of Bay Avenue, not quite sure where to stop or what to eat as they entered what seemed to be a foodie fantasyland.
“I think we’re going to try the other end of the street to see if we’re missing anything,” Wertz said of the array of food vendors.
“I like the Hawaiian tacos. The Korean barbecued tacos also sound interesting,” Broadbent suggested to her sister.
Broadbent and Wertz were among thousands of people who crowded the city’s waterfront Saturday to enjoy the culinary delights and live entertainment during the annual Bayfest celebration.
A 14-block stretch of Bay Avenue was transformed into a gigantic, carnival-like setting of food vendors, live music, arts and crafts and family-friendly attractions. Organizers estimated the daylong festival, the city’s largest annual event, would attract between 30,000 and 40,000 people.
Blue skies, mild temperatures and a light breeze blowing off the bay made for beautiful weather. Crowds took a leisurely stroll down Bay Avenue — closed to motor vehicle traffic for the day — to bask in the waterfront surroundings.
“If the weather is nice, you’re ready to get out and see everything,” said Wertz, of Upper Darby, Pa.
Asked what she enjoyed about Bayfest, Broadbent, an Ocean City resident, replied, “Everything.”
Inspired by Earth Day, Bayfest started 26 years ago as a relatively modest way to honor the environment. Although it still maintains its environmental traditions, the festival has grown into a sprawling community extravaganza that provides a big boost for the town and its businesses.
“It’s important to the entire city, because it certainly brings a lot of people here. We get 30,000 to 40,000 people here and it’s a great opportunity to showcase the town,” said Dave Hieb, the treasurer of the Bayfest organizing committee and co-owner of The Doc’s Place restaurant with his brother, Geoff.
Andrew Latz, owner of Latz’s by the Bay restaurant, estimated that his daytime business would triple over normal levels during Bayfest. In addition to giving local businesses a lift, Latz said Bayfest has helped to turn Somers Point into a tourist attraction.
“It brings people to Somers Point who would not normally come here. It puts another face on Somers Point,” he said.
More than 100 vendors lined Bay Avenue under their tents, hawking everything from food to jewelry and paintings to toys. The smell of cooked food filled the air. Seafood, burgers, pizza, funnel cake, ice cream and much more tempted the festival-goers’ appetites.
Bayfest’s family-friendly fun included an amusement park-like collection of pony rides, a petting zoo, a circus-style show by street performers and inflatable playhouses on the street and beach.
“This was the main reason for coming here. We’re looking for kid-friendly activities. That was the top priority,” said Jenya Semenova, while holding her 1-year-old daughter, Milina.
Semenova, of Northfield, was accompanied by her grandmother-in-law, Kathleen Stanbro. They were getting ready to watch Milina take a pony ride.
“This is absolutely the best thing to do,” said Stanbro, also of Northfield. “We love the family atmosphere.”
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