The festive downtown offers shopping, carriage rides and a visit from Santa on Black Friday. By MADDY VITALEThere are plenty of reasons why people would want to head downtown in Ocean City on the biggest shopping day of the year. Consider the array of boutiques that appeal to all tastes and many restaurants offering discounts.But there is also a lot more to enjoy in “America’s Greatest Family Resort” over the holidays, according to the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce. Chamber officials note that when it comes to holiday shopping and memories, big box retailers and malls just don’t compare to Ocean City’s festive small-town charms.Ocean City’s Christmas in the Downtown — “Our Miracle on Asbury Avenue” — runs from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Black Friday. Downtown shop keepers and restaurant owners will be open late.“Small businesses are an integral part of Ocean City. Shopping small means you get unique items, spectacular customer service and some great buys,” explained Michele Gillian, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce. “We ask everyone to remember to shop small this holiday season in Ocean City.”Boutique-style shops and popular eateries are offering sales and deals to entice customers to come out to the event, Gillian said.Shopping in downtown Ocean City on Black Friday offers the added bonus of good deals on merchandise. (Photo courtesy Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce)And it isn’t only about shopping.Shoppers won’t experience free horse and carriage rides at the mall. The popular attraction is offered from Nov. 29 through New Year’s Day on Asbury Avenue.The old-fashioned Christmas atmosphere found when strolling or driving along Asbury Avenue is heightened by garland-wrapped lamp posts, red bows on big wreaths and festive music, Chamber officials say.Children will be able to marvel at Santa Claus descending from the rooftop of Ocean City’s City Hall to help light the Christmas tree. Santa is scheduled to make his special appearance at 5 p.m.“When you take a stroll down Asbury Avenue at Christmas time, it really is like a scene out of a movie, a Hallmark movie to be exact,” Gillian said.She continued “From the streets decorated in holiday style, to horse and carriage rides, to Santa’s mailbox, where every child, and even some adults receive a response from Santa, Ocean City during the holidays is simply magical and breathtaking”The Christmas tree lighting brings out a huge crowd of spectators to marvel at the lights. (Photo courtesy Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce)Highlights of the day include visits with Santa in a lifeguard boat at the Mark Soifer Park across from City Hall from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., a special appearance by the Phillie Phanatic from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., the carriage rides, carolers in Victorian costumes, and the Ocean City Theatre Company Show Choir performances, all on Asbury Avenue.Gillian pointed out that there is no place like Ocean City over the holidays.“Christmas in the downtown is a special event that is unique to Ocean City. The entire community comes out for this exciting event. Downtown merchants have shopping specials, we have strolling Christmas entertainment, horse and carriage rides, and spectacular Christmas decoration to admire,” she said. “You really do feel like you are walking in a winter wonderland when you come to Ocean City on Black Friday. It truly is a magical day.”The event is sponsored by the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Merchants Association and the City of Ocean City. For information, contact the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-BeachNJ or visit online at www.OceanCityVacation.com.Old-fashioned holiday decorations line festive Asbury Avenue.