O.C. palm readers see crowds Holiday: If palm trees are being placed in Ocean City, it must be Memorial Day, a time to welcome tourist hordes, especially after a soggy spring.


OCEAN CITY -- The first sure signs of summer began cropping up in Maryland's seaside resort this week -- palm trees.

Just in time for the arrival this weekend of a couple hundred thousand vacationers primed for the traditional opening of the beach season, landscapers have been plopping the trees beside bars, restaurants and hotels.

"This is all just part of the image," says Rocco F. DiFlippo, watching a crew working outside his 70-room Tidelands Caribbean Hotel at 5th Street and the Boardwalk.

After a dreary, soggy El Nino winter and spring, everyone from beach shop owners to Western Maryland kayak outfitters is predicting the same thing for the three-day weekend -- a mad Memorial Day dash for anything that means summer.

Maryland transportation officials expect more than 224,000 vehicles to cross the Bay Bridge on the long weekend and another 430,000 to pass toll booths along I-95. That's compared with an average day of less than 25,000 on the bridge and about 65,000 cars along I-95.

State police say they will be out in force all weekend, nabbing speeders and enforcing the state's mandatory seat belt law.

Ocean City tourism officials say there are some vacancies among the town's 9,500 hotel rooms and 25,000 condo units. Last year, Memorial Day weekend brought 205,000 visitors to the beach -- and good weather this year could bring more.

And so yesterday, Jo Naidu, who runs an Ellicott City plant business called Premiere Foliage, was preparing to pull an all-nighter with his 12-man crew to plant palm trees for a half-dozen clients.

Naidu flies to South Florida every spring, selects the trees and has them brought to Ocean City in refrigerated trucks. A few years ago, he hired three or four trucks; this year, 15

tractor-trailers hauled about 2,000 trees for him.

The best part about the palm tree business? They can't survive )) Maryland winters. "Next year, we'll be right back here planting all new trees," Naidu says.

That's not to say Ocean City -- now a year-round resort -- does so badly in the winter.

"This is still a big weekend, but if you go back 20 years, Memorial Day had a lot more significance," says Donna Abbott, a spokeswoman for the city's tourism office. "On President's Weekend in February, we had 123,000 people here."

North of Ocean City, two winter storms and 13 straight days of rain and winds this month left the Delaware beaches with the worst erosion in more than 35 years.

Alarmed that high tides now cover all but a 20-yard swath of sand at Rehoboth Beach, city officials are awaiting approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin a $1.5 million beach replenishment program.

While routine in Ocean City, the effort is a first for Rehoboth. This summer, Delaware also will spend $4 million to replace sand at the Dewey, Bethany and Fenwick Island beaches.

Rehoboth merchants are ready, though. "Hey, for 32 years I've been ready for Memorial Day. It's always invigorating," says Norm Gershman, who opened the Rehoboth Avenue clothing store than bears the family name with his parents in 1966.

Storm damage to the Dolle's salt water taffy stand, a landmark at Rehoboth Avenue and that town's boardwalk, has caught the interest of Internet browsers.

The huge red sign atop the shop can be viewed on a DelMarVa OnLine! Web site via "Rehobothcam," a video camera mounted on the roof of the Thrasher's french fries stand next door.

"You wouldn't believe how many people have called here wanting to know when the 'D' was getting fixed," says Dolle's manager Ted Russiano, pointing upward as a repair crew replaced the missing letter Wednesday morning.

In Western Maryland, campground operators and boat rental companies are similarly braced for an influx of city dwellers.

"A lot of businesses really depend on doing well this weekend because things will drop off a lot until July and August," says Dave Griffith, manager at Deep Creek Outfitters.

Several parades and weekend events have been scheduled.

The nation's oldest Memorial Day parade is tomorrow in Sharpsburg, beginning at 1: 45 p.m. The 25th annual Chestertown Tea Party Festival, also tomorrow, includes a colonial parade in the morning and a re-enactment of the tea party in the afternoon.

A remembrance service in honor of those members of the armed forces who lost their lives in Korea will be held at 11 a.m. Monday, at the Maryland Korean War Memorial in Baltimore.

At the same time in Timonium, a memorial will be added to the Circle of the Immortals at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens; it will honor World War II and Korean War veterans.

Pub Date: 5/22/98

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