ATLANTIC CITY — Veterans, first responders, floats, balloons and marching bands will take to the Boardwalk on Saturday afternoon for the first Celebrate America Parade.
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City is putting on the event to honor local heroes and inspiring Americans, featuring local police and fire personnel as well as sports legends and a pageant queen.
The parade falls on the Saturday that traditionally has been reserved for the Miss America “Show Us Your Shoes” parade, when the 50-plus Miss America contestants would ride down the Boardwalk in convertibles and rolling chairs with themed costumes and footwear. However, the spot was left vacant after the competition announced its move to Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, over the summer.
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This is the first time in seven years and the second time in Miss America history the pageant will not be held in Atlantic City.
But Joe Lupo, Hard Rock president, said Wednesday the new parade isn’t an attempt to fill in the gap.
“We were looking for those that represented the concept or the theme of celebrating America, so we obviously spoke to Miss America,” Lupo said. “We’re not trying to replace the Miss America parade. We tried to engage with all different types of people that help celebrate America.”
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Lupo said they saw so many veterans and other individuals at Hard Rock’s June anniversary parade who felt so much pride when they saw a flag or a veteran that it was easy to choose the theme for the September parade.
The parade comes on the heels of another veteran-themed event in the city. Last month, the Atlantic City Airshow, once nicknamed “Thunder Over the Boardwalk” was rebranded as “A Salute to Those That Serve.”
From 2011 to 2016, the Atlantic City Salutes America’s Armed Forces Parade kicked off airshow week, a tradition founded by Press of Atlantic City columnist and radio personality Pinky Kravitz, who died in October 2015.
The parade consisted of military bands, veterans and local marching bands. In 2016, the parade highlighted 11 World War II veterans.
However, there wasn’t enough funding available to support the cost of the parade, and in 2017, officials announced it wouldn’t be held.
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This year, Hard Rock wanted to create a parade everyone could enjoy, Lupo said, adding they’ve advertised both locally and regionally to pull in crowds.
In addition to the nod to local heroes, Hard Rock wanted summer to last a little longer, bringing in visitors from around the region, but also create a community-driven event, Lupo said.
“It’s a beautiful time of year here, and we thought, how could we extend the summer?” he said. “We are really just trying to create another experience post-summer when things are a little slower and to create an event that the city can be proud of.”
Miss America 1984 Suzette Charles will serve as grand marshal, and the current Miss Washington, D.C., Miss Maryland, Miss New Jersey and Miss Pennsylvania also will be in the parade.
Charles, a Mays Landing native who lives in Ventnor, is excited to be the grand marshal.
“The Hard Rock approached me about the parade and explained that it would be celebrating local heroes, military veterans, professional athletes and people known in this area,” she said Thursday. “It’s for the community.”
Lupo said they’re trying to create an annual parade that brings the community together in patriotism.
The first weeks of September have always been a part of the area’s “shoulder season,” dating to the original Fall Frolic parade of the 1920s that aimed to extend summer tourism.
“We really hope people enjoy the day, and we hope it can inspire others not only to celebrate America but also our community,” Lupo said. “And hopefully it gets bigger next year and becomes a long-standing event in Atlantic City.”
The parade starts at 5 p.m. on the Boardwalk at Metropolitan Avenue and ends an hour and a half later at Arkansas Avenue.
Staff Writer Lauren Carroll contributed to this report.