WILDWOOD - Labor Day is less than two weeks away, and decades ago that meant the tourist season was coming to a close.
But today, the shoulder season, or second season as it is also known, is packed with a long list of events that take advantage of the region's abundance of second-home owners and mild late-summer and fall climate.
In Cape May County, for instance, nearly 50 percent of all residential units are used seasonally.
The county's tourism director, Diane Wieland, said a recognition of the number of second-home owners was partly the cause of a movement to increase activity after the traditional end of summer tourism.
The example of Wildwood's annual state Firemen's Convention also spurred the calendar's growth in the off season.
"If you take a look at the events after the Firemen's Convention, that was the impetus to say 'Look how many people come down,'" Wieland said.
That convention draws about 7,000 people to the Wildwoods each year.
Today, about 15 percent of the $5.2 billion generated here in tourism revenue each year is made after Labor Day.
Wieland credited Wildwood with being among the first to recognize, maybe 20 years ago, that if the firefighters would come, so would others.
"I think Wildwood probably took the lead with that," she said, pointing to the 50s-themed weekend and North Wildwood Irish Fall Festival that are staples on the tourism calendar.
Tracey Dufault, executive director of the Greater Wildwood Chamber of Commerce, said the annual Wildwoods Seafood and Music Festival, held in October, drew more than 15,000 people last year. And the Oct. 18-19 Fabulous '50s Weekend is expected to draw as many as 3,500 at the event's Friday Night Dance, 10,000 at Fox Park on Saturday and another 5,500 to 6,000 at the weekend's concert on Saturday night, Dufault said.
Other places, including Ocean City, also hold block parties, and Cape May has managed to stretch its season through December in many places.
"They all started to realize there's a lot of second-home owners that come back," Wieland said.
Wieland said the need to extend the season also was important from the perspective of seasonal business owners.
"You had to go beyond the traditional 10-week summer to keep businesses in business," Wieland said.
Now, places such as Morey's Piers, a summer staple for millions, even hold events beyond bathing suit season.
The pier operator is hosting a Zombie Mud Run, complete with zombies, on Oct. 12.
But Wieland said that while the season has been extended, weather still decides just how long the season is.
"For most of us, it's six months. Cape May might manage to push it to nine," she said.
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