WEST OCEAN CITY — The parking lot of the new Chick-fil-A restaurant on Route 50 in West Ocean City turned into a vanilla Shakedown Street of sorts on Wednesday as dozens gathered and camped out for a chance to win a year’s supply of the popular chain’s offerings.
Since a store opening in Arizona in 2003, each new Chick-fil-A has hosted a “First 100 Celebration,” awarding the first 100 people in line with a free year’s supply. With the new store set to open yesterday morning, the line starting forming at 6 a.m. on Wednesday as tents were pitched, cots and beds were hauled out and Frisbees and footballs flew.
By 9 a.m. on Wednesday, the first 49 individuals were given wristbands marking their place in line and the crowd grew throughout mid-morning. The magic 100 number was finally reached around 7 p.m. on Wednesday night as the campers settled in anticipation of the early Thursday morning opening when they could redeem their prize.
For many in line, including more than a few local residents, the Chick-fil-A campout was a first, but many others faithfully follow the famous chain’s openings like latter day Deadheads.
For Mike Swartz of Norriton, Pa., Wednesday’s campout in West Ocean City was his 40th and one of the more pleasant. With bright sunshine and warm temperatures, this opening was a far cry from some of the others he attended. He recalled a recent opening in Dublin, Ohio where winds reached 70 mph.
“The weather was just awful and the wind was howling,” he said. “They gave us our tickets and let us go early, around 7 p.m. the night before. It was one of the more memorable ones.”
Swartz said the primary purpose is for the Chick-fil-A giveaway, but many of the campers have gotten to know each other over the years and some keep in touch at other times in the year.
“It’s all about the Chick-fil-A, but it’s also about the relationships and the camaraderie. We’ve met some great people at these things. It’s nice to bring people together,” he said.
Like Swartz, Desiree Tomlinson of Waldorf, Md. has been to numerous Chick-fil-A “First 100” celebrations. Tomlinson said Wednesday’s opening y was her 14th, and she had been successful in earning the prize in 11 of those. Tomlinson said she always wears the same outfit, her “lucky” outfit and recalled a memorable opening when campers set up in a nearby park and were soaked when a sprinkler system went off in the middle of the night.
“I just love the people I meet at these things,” she said. “They’re mostly Christian people with similar interests. It’s just a real neat thing they do.”
S. Truitt Cathy opened the first Chick-fil-A in an Atlanta mall in 1967 and his grandson Mark Cathy was at the opening in West Ocean City on Wednesday where he tossed a football and chatted with the campers.
“It’s become a really great thing,” he said. “People come from all over for these openings and we appreciate it. Sometimes, they camp out in snow or when the temperature hits 20 below.”
By early Thursday morning, the “first 100” had survived the night and were rewarded with their year’s supply doled out in 52 coupons, although they don’t have to use one each week. Chick-fil-A estimated Thursday giveaway at $26,000. Since that first celebration in 2003, there have been 600 openings around the country resulting in an estimated $16 million in giveaways.