Parade Grand Marshal Helped Organize Its First Steps

Susan Hay of The Haymarket Recalls Highlights of Its History
By MARIA SCANDALE | Nov 27, 2019
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Ship Bottom — The people who started the Ship Bottom Christmas parade were going out on a limb 40 years ago. Out on a limb on a barrier island in winter. But in the month before Christmas, Santa Claus found the town just fine. And after all, there’s a toy store on the main street.

This year’s grand marshal, Susan Hay of The Haymarket Hobbies and Toys, was there before it all started, when a fellow businessperson told her he had a dream.

“Bernie Cortius was a retired executive, and he owned the Pottery Barge across the street,” Hay began the story. “He came in one morning and said that the night before, he had a dream that we had a parade in town.”

At the time, the foresight could have been likened to a vision of sugarplums – they didn’t call it the off-season for nothing. Long Beach Island in December was a little bit bleak. Tourists and summer home owners had long since packed up. “It was very sleepy back then,” as Hay summed up.

But 1979 had been the first year that The Hand Store, the Haymarket and the Pottery Barge had decided to try staying open during the off months, for the people who were there.

“Bernie Cortius had said, ‘We should have a Christmas parade to show that Ship Bottom is open,’” Hay recalled, “that it was not closed down for the winter, that we were still here.”

So today’s hour-and-a-half-long parade procession started out as somebody’s dream, literally.

But to take those first steps down the Boulevard, a parade committee first went door-to-door in the borough to drum up support.

“Obviously, it was well received,” Hay noted. “But when you think back on it, I was surprised we really even pulled it off. It was pretty crazy – who would have a parade in the off-season in a shore town with the winds that we get?”

But they already had a Santa. And Christmas spirit doesn’t take a vacation.

Susan and John Hay were on the original parade committee, along with Mayor Bob Nissen, Wayne and Linda Feaster of Island Records, Louise Simmons of Bud Simmons Marine (where Wawa is now), Kit Young of Colonial Sheet Metal, Paul Hess of The Beach Haven Times, Scott Henderson of Bay State Bank and Austin Bechtold of The SandPaper.

Nowadays Hay is working in the store on what turned out to be a busy toy shopping day. Despite her far reach into the parade’s history, Hay said she was surprised at the invitation to be 2019 grand marshal. Her husband held the honor in the parade’s 25th year.

“I feel very honored and flattered that they asked me, and when I stand in front of my store and watch it – it lasts at least an hour and a half or so – it just goes to show what community spirit we have,” she said. “I think there is the magic of Long Beach Island,” she added, referring to an old tourism slogan. “People are so creative with the themes.”

Images Marching

Down Memory Lane

“Uncle Carl” was Santa for many years. He was committee member Louise Simmons’ uncle, and many people called him “Uncle Carl” in Hay’s memory.

“He was Santa Claus all year ’round,” she described. “He looked like him; he acted like him.” But to find him a new red suit, she had to go all the way to Burlington – there was no Amazon to order from in 1979.

The Jolly Old Elf memory brings up another vivid image in Hay’s recollection, something that has happened only twice.

“The biggest highlight to me was Dave Ash landing Santa in the helicopter,” she said. Circling above borough hall and the post office, the builder and pilot delivered Santa directly to the street.

She first saw it when the Hays were doing what it now takes a bigger team to pull off: turning that morning’s assortment of fire trucks, antique cars, marching bands, floats and decorated people into an orderly parade.

“Back then, my husband would line up the parade, get the registration forms in order, and then I would frantically drive back to the judges and give them the lineup,” Susan Hay set the scene.

“And I remember pulling up, looking in the sky and seeing the helicopter circling, Santa looking down, waving at all the kids, and I got goosebumps. I was so thrilled; I thought, I wonder what the kids feel like.”

That happened for two years and then stopped A prevailing thought among some decision-makers was that it was just too dangerous to continue a landing amid a group of people. But Hay recalls comments on what skill it had required as a pilot to navigate such a landing. (Ash did revive tradition in part one recent year, when Santa circled with him above, before the parade, without landing, as The SandPaper reported.)

Another wide-eyed moment for watchers was more down to earth.

“For two years, we had an antique wood-burning steam tractor; the crowd went crazy for it,” Hay reported. “And it had a really deep steam whistle; that was a real highlight. People loved it, especially the kids who had never seen anything like that before.”

John Hay and his father riding their high-wheel bicycles, also known as penny-farthings in the 1870s and 1880s, was another parade entry that watchers loved.

The Shriners circling in the street in their miniature cars, wearing fezzes, are an applauded sight that still carries on today.

In the early days of the parade, “we also had our floats from Blondie’s of Ocean City – they made the floats for the Miss America parade,” Hay said. “But then again, sometimes if it rained – these were crepe paper floats – the logistics of bringing them from Ocean City to here” were not workable.

On the other hand, “the homemade floats are the best, like Alliance for a Living Ocean’s, and the Soroptimists’, and everybody’s,” Hay added, noting the time and the money that participants and float sponsors put into the community event.

In all kinds of weather and from all directions, people come out to watch. They bring their beach chairs and their blankets.

“One year it rained very heavily, and one of the entries was playing an electric keyboard on the back of a pickup truck and getting shocks from the keyboard.”

Every attraction has its near-misses of mishaps, and a parade is no exception. Behind the scenes, so much has to go right. Well-laid plans are a good insurance policy.

“We used to let them throw candy off the floats,” Hay said, “and then I think we had a videotape of a kid almost getting run over, in running up to get it. So now the rule is you can’t throw candy off the floats. The elves walk alongside the parade and give it out. You learn from your mistakes.

“It gets bigger and better every year” is her overall observance, and that’s saying something.

“It’s definitely an event, and they plan their calendars around the Christmas Parade.”

Original TV announcers were Charles Reinl and Don Myers. Jay Mann succeeded Reinl, and in the last few years, students from Southern Regional High School’s Southern News Network television station produce the show. Originally, TV production was supervised by the late Jim DeFrancesco of Hogpenny Studios.

Early announcers were situated on scaffolding with no wind break. Now the county provides a mobile stage with sides and a back to give some shelter from the wind.

Haymarket Toy Store

Has Own Long History

The Hays’ Haymarket Hobbies and Toys precedes the parade in age, and a stop there is next on the list of many parade-goers after the event.

Susan Hay first visited the Island in 1972 and never left. As a kid, John spent every summer in Brant Beach. They both attended Drexel University in Philadelphia. Susan earned a degree in human behavior and development (that fits with owning a toy store) and John in electrical engineering (trains are one feature of the shop’s inventory).

Their business dates to 1976. The original inventory consisted of the entire stock of The Tagg-Along Shop, operated by Ella and Bill Tagg during the 1950s and ’60s, located at 28th Street in Ship Bottom, where the Farias’ Children’s Boutique is now.

Then in 1978, they purchased the store where their shop now stands. Built in the 1920s, the site was originally an ice cream parlor. Because of their growing inventory and need for more space, it was rebuilt into the wonderland it is today. The Hays’ daughter Ali practically grew up in the toy store.

The shelves are filled high above eye level with a wide range of high-quality hobbies, toys, crafts, games and puzzles for all ages.

At Christmastime, countless parents have hustled into the store in hopes that good things from St. Nicholas will be there.

As Hay said. when asked to list trends over the years for this story, “Some years there is the ‘must have fad,’ and other years there is nothing that especially stands out.

“In past years there has been a craze for Tickle Me Elmo, Cabbage Patch dolls, Teddy Ruxpin, Simon, Smurfs, Beanie Babies, Furbies, Star Wars, Tamagotchies and recently Hatchimals. The classic toys are always timeless and the best in my opinion. And there are always changing trends.”

In the toy industry you never know what will be the “IT” toy until around Thanksgiving, she said.

“However, orders for the big box stores are placed early in the year. These hot toys are made in China, and it takes months to manufacture and transport. When something becomes suddenly hot – the demand is high and the supply low – it is frustrating for parents when that’s the top toy on Santa’s list and it’s nowhere to be found. Now the internet helps with that respect, but usually with a high cost,” Hay said.

This year’s new Beanie Babies are beautifully covered in dual-sided sequin colors. Hay has a story about one year when that brand of plush toy animals was a huge craze. The sales rep could choose one of his stores to deliver them to, and he picked The Haymarket.

“It was a Friday night, and I got like $12,000 worth of Beanie Babies. I thought that was my July and August order and I was going to have to cancel it.”

But word of mouth spread that The Haymarket had Beanie Babies. They had to limit orders to six per person. Running people’s credit cards, they saw buyers had already been there for an earlier order of six. A lot of people were buying them to re-sell at flea markets and the like.

“By Sunday, we were out of them.”

So, the toy business has been interesting, and the year 2019 will top it off for Susan Hay with a ride as grand marshal in the parade whose incubation partly took place right there in the store.

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