- The Washington Times - Friday, July 3, 2009

Fewer Americans will travel this Fourth of July weekend — disappointing news for mid-Atlantic beaches that weathered a slow, soggy June.

“People have been waiting around to see if they have a job,” said John B. Townsend II of AAA Mid-Atlantic, which makes the annual travel projection.

The group says 2.2 percent fewer people will travel 50 miles or more during the three-day weekend that starts Friday. More than 859,000 area residents are expected to go out of town this year.

The summer season started swimmingly for Ocean City officials who reported the second-busiest Memorial Day weekend on record.

However, lots of rainy days cast a cloud over the typically slow June.

AccuWeather.com forecaster Tom Kines on Thursday reported 13 rain days and four more with drizzle last month in Salisbury, Md., about 20 miles west of Ocean City.

“That’s about double the amount for June,” he said.

Businesses along the Delaware-Maryland coast - a tight-knit group of mostly small, family-run businesses - are known to hold their numbers close and remain upbeat in slow times.

“The season has been great so far,” said Jason Weissberg, a general manager at Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats in Rehoboth Beach, Del. “The weather has kept people off the beach but has not kept them from coming to town. And we have a place for them to go.”

Others gave a less enthusiastic report about the summer so far, as the recession continues into its 20th month.

“We’ve had a good population during the weekend with special events, but during the week it’s been very, very soft,” said Joe Hall, owner of Hall’s Family Restaurant in Ocean City and a town council member. “Half of the days had rain. June would have been uglier without the air show. I hope for sunnier weather.”

Capt. Kent Buckson of the Rehoboth Beach Patrol said the tough economy forced him to turn away lifeguard applicants this summer, but he has a veteran staff and was not forced to make cuts, as the neighboring Dewey Beach Patrol did.

“The first couple of weeks have been rainy, but we’re coming out of it now,” Capt. Buckson said. “I’ve had to be careful with overtime, but I didn’t have to cut staff. I think town officials realized the importance of that.”

Despite the predictions of a slower Fourth weekend, resort businesses are optimistic about the local $2.69-a-gallon gas prices - $1.43 less than last year - and the weekend forecast of 80-degree temperatures, low humidity and no rain.

“This is an outstanding weather forecast,” said Ocean City spokeswoman Donna Abbott. “I’m expecting a very good weekend. There’s still some rooms available for last-minute planners. We’ll have a good season. We’re well positioned as a resort for people to get to quickly.”

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