Published May 27. 2014 4:00AM
Old Lyme — Memorial Day at Sound View Beach brought a multitude of beachside revelers, families toting sandpails and towels, and patrons lining up for sweets.
On the busy holiday afternoon with temperatures in the 70s, groups of teenagers strolled Hartford Avenue, and residents relaxed outside cottages. Children skipped around in anticipation of ice cream cones. Drivers searched for parking spaces, and motorcyclists buzzed by.
Closer to the water, crowds of adults partied at beachside bars or chatted with friends on the beach, as music blasted and the occasional jet ski zipped across the pale blue water.
Flocking to Sound View in the summertime may be a time-honored tradition for many, but this Memorial Day - with record-breaking crowds - also comes at a moment when the beach area is in transition.
Last year, the town installed diagonal, kiosk-metered parking along the southbound side of Hartford Avenue, and this season, a new kiosk meter is in place at the town parking lot. Construction on a bike lane, picnic area and permanent restrooms at Sound View could begin in 2015, if the project's next phase is approved.
Business owner Dee Vowles, who has run The Carousel with her family for 26 years, said she supports the town's proposed changes to the area. She said over the years she has built a loyal customer base with families that frequent the shop, which also includes an ice cream stand and a merry-go-round.
While she said she hopes Hartford Avenue will always have two-way traffic to support businesses, she said it was important to keep in mind that the area needs a common solution: "It's the residents and the businesses -and we have to work together to make it happen."
At the same time, some local businesses also have plans. Lenny Corto, the owner of Lenny's on the Beach, said he began last year expanding the menu and hosting lobster nights twice a week: "It really took off for us."
Corto said he hopes focusing more on food offerings, coupled with the revitalization of the street, will generate more business, especially in an area that can become quieter in the off-season. He will go before the Zoning Commission next month with a plan to expand the beachfront area with a roped-off area for dining tables for lobster nights and special events.
Brenda Massa, a summertime resident who had walked over for ice cream at The Carousel on Monday, said Sound View is nostalgic for her. She recalls visiting the beach over 35 years ago when her aunt owned a Hartford Avenue bakery. She and her husband, Richard Massa, recalled a time when there were many family-owned businesses - from markets to venues with rides for kids and the avenue bustled with families pushing strollers:
"It needs revitalization," she said.
Evan Rowe is one of the new business owners on Sound View. He opened the Waffle Bar on Hartford Avenue last year. On Monday he was in good spirits as he worked with tunes blasting and the smell of baking waffles emanating from the shop. He said he was excited to learn that several of the vacant properties across the street on Hartford Avenue had been purchased in an auction.
"I'm happy to be back - and I'm happy people are happy I'm back," he added.
After a long winter, many residents were also happy to flock to the beach. Memorial Day set records, with all parking lots full by 10 a.m. and a steady flow of drivers into the afternoon, said Old Lyme police officer Tom Heinssen. He said the beachgoers were orderly, but the police department did issue tickets and towed cars that were illegally parked.
As the town's park rangers monitored parking in the area, some people had questions for them about the new parking system, which the rangers explained to them.
For some beachgoers, Sound View was the same as ever. Bob DellaVecchia of Southington said his 4-year-old daughter adores playing in the sand and swimming in the water at the beach. And all the people and sights at Sound View have been fun to watch.
"We've been people-watching," he said with a smile. "She's been counting the motorcycles."