Roughly 5,000 people turned out for the first Sea Witch Festival in 1989, and coordinator Carol Everhart considered it a bust. But the chamber of commerce that hired her knew she was on to something.
"I was devastated," Everhard said. "They were thrilled."
A Maryland transplant, Everhart was tapped by the chamber to develop a must-attend event to boost visitors to Rehoboth Beach during the off-season. She turned to the closest calendar event that might give it some traction.
"I'm told by DelDOT and the police it's the biggest event in the state," Everhart said. "It's quite an endeavor to put on."
With Everhart's help, the once-seasonal seaside town of Rehoboth Beach now has a thriving shoulder season from September through October, and events planned through most of its 52 weekends.
"We're inches away from seeing a year-round community," said Everhart, who added that booming residential construction has brought retirees and transplants to the area, and Rehoboth and Dewey have bumped up its retail offerings to meet the demand. "A lot of that is due to businesses and it's a joy to see that happen."
With a simple mission statement to grow business, tourism and civic responsibility (""¦ the best mission statement in the world," according to Everhart), Everhart and her team have managed to grow membership from 160 to 1,300 and generate activities that entice visitors from Thursday through Monday.
"I ride on wonderful shoulders," said Everhart, who said keeping up with the growth means constant adaptation for the business community. To meet the challenges, the chambers offers workshops for retailers to talk about everything from web design and metrics to merchandising.
"The chamber and other organizations do as much as we can to control the outside experience. We provide the events, keep an eye on who's visiting, traffic issues, demographics, we work with DART. The businesses have to create the inside experiences."
Already, Everhart is hard at work planning the third annual "Beach Goes Red, White & Blue" service recognition day scheduled for June 9, a retro-themed event to salute police officers, firefighters, paramedics and the military. She is cautious about numbers, and says it takes at least two to three years to grow an event.
As for her plans to retire in the community she celebrates?
"They tell me that I'll know when it's time to retire," said Everhart. "But I told them, "˜You might have to tell me when the time is right.' I'm still enjoying it."