'Annie's' brings South Philly's 2nd Street to shore
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Carly Q. Romalino, Courier-Post Published 9:01 p.m. ET Aug. 11, 2017 | Updated 10:57 a.m. ET Aug. 23, 2017
WILDWOOD - The acts on the stage stop performing, often midsong, at 11:59 p.m. sharp.
The band leader — sometimes a cover band rocker, other times a suspender-clad ragtime banjo player — takes the mic and starts the countdown.
Ten ... nine ... eight ...
By the time he gets to one, the confetti cannons fire, small umbrellas trimmed in lace are passed around, and feathered headdresses once worn by Philadelphia Mummers are strapped to patrons' heads.
Every night is New Year's Eve at 2nd Street Annie's on Pacific Avenue in Wildwood.
The nightly spectacle — the Mummers strut to "Golden Slippers" & "Alabama Jubilee" — is a nod to the club owner's Philly roots.
"People from out of the area have no idea what we're doing, but they know we're having a good time," co-owner Joe Harris said.
Harris, of Washington Township, invested in bringing Annie's back to Wildwood with co-owners Nick Sylvestro and Ann Stimmler-Arentzen, the venue's namesake and originator.
The trio bought Annie's, and two more buildings on Pacific Avenue earlier this year. After hitting snags with settlement, they had just 17 days before their target opening date to transform Annie's from crumbling to cool.
The group will open a second club called Sylvestro's at the corner of Pacific and Schellenger in the spring.
"Annie from Second Street " is a string band standard, written at the turn of the century, Harris explained.
"It's a Mummers anthem, and we carry that theme all the way through," he said.
A banjo topped with a wench brigade cap is tacked to a brick wall of the inside stage. String band and Fancy Brigade flags hang from the ceiling.
"There's something so special about New Year's with the Mummers," Stimmler-Arentzen said.
"We're an entertainment venue. We're bringing that bit of Philadelphia here."
It's not all Stimmler-Arentzen is bringing back to struggling Pacific Avenue.
Annie's is an entertainment cocktail: Three parts live music from cover bands to dueling pianos inside and in the al fresco beer garden; two parts DJ-ed dance party, spinning oldies to '90s hip-hop; and a splash of something different, from drag queen bingo to burlesque troupes.
"They're so unique, that's what separates them," said John Donio, Wildwood Business Improvement District president.
The improvement district aims to revive Pacific Avenue, a once-thriving downtown in Wildwood City where full-time island residents and shoobies would go not only to party, but buy groceries and everyday supplies. In recent decades, groceries went inland and shops transitioned to the boardwalk.
Annie's — with the Shamrock, Cattle & Clover & Zippy's bikes — is anchoring Pacific Avenue, he explained.
The investment of Stimmler-Arentzen, Harris and Sylvestro in three buildings on "the Avenue" are a boost to the strip's revitalization, Donio said.
Real estate is relatively inexpensive in Wildwood compared with other parts of the island, Stimmler-Arentzen noted.
Annie's on Pacific Avenue is the reincarnation of her first club on Old New Jersey Avenue in North Wildwood that opened in 2004. She sold it to the owners of Keenan's Irish Pub in 2009 on "an offer I couldn't refuse," Stimmler-Arentzen said.
Keenan's demolished it to build its outdoor patio, expanding its location to an entire block.
When Stimmler-Arentzen, a former Philadelphia title insurance company owner, could no longer deny the itch for the seashore entertainment business, she made a $6 million offer on Westy's Irish Pub blocks from Keenan's, then an $11 million offer on Lighthouse Point. Both contracts fell through, she said.
Annie's and its two companion properties were a steal in comparison, a $450,000 bundle.
"We are a bargain with commercial properties down the shore, especially with the amount of people you are within two blocks of," Donio said.
Hundreds of thousand of people are on the boardwalk on a summer weekend. His job is to redirect that traffic from the boards to the Avenue. Atlantic and Ocean avenues are 99 percent occupied, Donio explained. Pacific, a long 26-block Main Street, is barren.
"It's a big risk, but we're looking at (Annie's) as an anchor," he said.
"Annie's is going to draw their crowd. They're already drawing their crowds. Investors notice that."
Much of the crowd is in walking distance from Annie's, but ride sharing services frequently drop off patrons to the bouncers at the front door.
"We have so many people come in and say, 'We're so glad we have something we can walk to,' " Stimmler-Arentzen said.
"We're proving people want to be here ... We're not vying for North Wildwood's business. We're targeting people who want to have fun."
Carly Q. Romalino; (856) 486-2476; firstname.lastname@example.org