364 days a year, Town Bank, in Lower Township, is not the kind of place you’d visit to go shopping. In fact, the quiet hamlet, known to some as the birthplace of South Jersey, is strictly residential, and those who live here like to keep it that way…most of time.
But once a year, Cape May County’s mini-Mayberry throws its doors open to visitors for its Whale of Day festival, and more than 150 vendors create a shopping mall without walls in a unique small town setting.
This year, July 5 is the date for the 10th annual Whale of Day, and it promises to be bigger than ever. The event started a decade ago as a community yard sale with no more than 25 vendors, organizer, Roz Shoemaker said, but now more than 150 retailers offer food, fun activities, entertainment, and, of course, shopping.
The event is a shopper’s paradise, offering everything from handbags and sunglasses to jewelry and books. Collectors can peruse a variety of antiques, including house wares, postcards and coins, while sportsman can shop for fishing gear and items that boast home-team pride.
But unlike your favorite shopping center, the festival also offers old-fashioned charm and family fun. Clowns roam the festival grounds and a magician does tricks to sell his wares. Plus, local Town Bank volunteers man the kid’s zone, offering face painting, games and an opportunity to make a personalized garden stepping stone or a gourd birdhouse to take home.
Instead of canned mall music, the festival offers a variety of live entertainment, including popular hits and vaudeville. And like an old-time county fair, the festival offers good eats from the Hungry Whale Café, and treats like funnel cakes, homemade soup and a baked goods table resplendent with a bounty of desserts from the kitchen of Town Bank’s “Best Baker” Ethel Simpson.
There’s plenty to keep adults busy, too, with a mini-health fair by St. Raymond’s Church, information booths on other local churches and organizations and a display on the town’s history, by resident, Leone Norrbom.
Shoemaker said that the success of the festival is the result of the time and talents of those who live in Town Bank and support the efforts of Historic Town Bank, Inc. to maintain and pay taxes on the half-mile of beach on the Delaware Bay that Carl T. Mitnick deeded to them 75 years ago in 1933. A clubhouse went up the following year, and funds raised by the Whale festival over the last decade have kept the town’s social center up and running with a new roof, a refurbished kitchen, and various other upgrades. This year they hope to renovate and expand the clubhouse deck.
Expansion may be a good idea, too, since Shoemaker said that once people get a taste of Town Bank’s charm and hospitality, they don’t want to leave. In fact, one vendor was so taken with the place that when the festival was over, he headed right to a local realtor to buy a house of his own.
“The people are nice in Town Bank—very pleasant and welcoming,” Shoemaker said, “It’s the Jersey Shore the way you remember it from the Fifties.” And one day a year, it’s a great place for everyone to have a whale of a time.
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