Sun Fun isn’t done.
The longtime Sun Fun Festival – which was canceled in 2012 after 60 years – is coming back to downtown Myrtle Beach.
The Oceanfront Merchants Association announced the festival’s return Thursday night. The event is planned for June 3-5 and will feature free shag lessons, games for kids, a parade and several beach music bands. Justin “Buz” Plyler, owner of the Gay Dolphin Gift Cove on Ocean Boulevard, is the presenting sponsor of this year’s two-day celebration.
“The principal reason to bring it back is because we need an event to kick off the summer,” Plyler said. “It worked in the past and we’re going to give it a shot.”
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The festival will be sharing a weekend with the Native Sons SALT Games, and organizers hope the resurrected event draws more visitors to Myrtle Beach, especially those who remember their summers at the Sun Fun Festival. Like so many beach residents, Plyler has a special connection to Sun Fun: his father was one of the festival’s original founders.
This is a big deal for folks in Myrtle Beach, and especially for the businesses on the oceanfront.
Randal Wallace, Myrtle Beach councilman
For most of Plyler’s life, the first weekend in June meant shag contests, Jell-O jumps and a festive parade. Now, as presenting sponsor, Plyler can bring back some of the magic that made his childhood memorable.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to create memories for the children of people who used to come here when they were children,” he said.
For 60 years, the event served as the official start of summer on the Grand Strand.
The local chamber of commerce created the festival with the goal of attracting tourists during the slow period between school letting out and the Fourth of July.
After the first event, the chamber held a contest to name the festival. June Truluck of Kingstree won the $25 prize for coining “Sun Fun Festival.”
Over the years, celebrities, beauty queens and quirky games became Sun Fun staples. Personalities like Alex Trebek and Kathy Ireland visited, as did a variety of actors and athletes.
But the celebration gradually changed. The human checker game, the makeshift “jail” where beauty queens held patrons who weren’t wearing Bermuda shorts, and the Sun Fun parade disappeared.
The location also shifted, moving from downtown Myrtle Beach to The Market Common in 2008.
Part of the reason Plyler’s resurrecting the festival stems from the interest of tourists. He said that every year when he’s talking with visiting families in his landmark gift shop, they always ask about Sun Fun’s return.
“They remembered it and they missed it,” he said. “They remembered fun.”
A year after Sun Fun turned 60, the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce announced that festival No. 61 wouldn’t happen.
Chamber officials said the event didn’t generate enough revenue to sustain itself and they wanted to focus on other advertising and tourism promotion efforts.
It’s an attempt to provide fun entertainment for children, and to rebuild a new generation of visitors to Myrtle Beach.
Buz Plyler, owner of the Gay Dolphin
For locals who grew up with the festival, the change stung.
“It was the end of celebrating Myrtle Beach,” said photographer Jack Thompson, who has worked downtown for decades. “It was a time that the kids were out of school, Mom and Dad on vacation, the beach opened up … a kickoff to the summer fun and it was a big letdown for thousands of people who looked forward to spending their first week of summer [here].”
As a teenager, Thompson hitchhiked from upstate South Carolina to Myrtle Beach in 1951 — the first year of the festival. He was glad to learn the festival was coming back.
“I’m certainly looking forward to that,” he said. “You know I was a part of every one of them. Every single one.”
Randal Wallace, Myrtle Beach City councilman, said the festival’s return is a “big deal” for locals, tourists and businesses alike. Back in the 1960s the event was used to kick off the summer tourism season, and it’s return will be “historic,” he said.
“Even though we’re a year-round place, we still like to have something that shows people we’re open for business,” Wallace said.
It is, in a way, an antiquated event. But people remember it and they remember fun.
Buz Plyler, owner of the Gay Dolphin
Suzette Rogers, who volunteered at Sun Fun for 20 years, was also thrilled.
“Yay!” she said. “We’re back.”
Rogers still lives on the Grand Strand. She’s missed Sun Fun.
“I understand why they let it go,” she said. “But on the other hand, it was just part of summer.”
Claire Byun: 843-626-0381, @Claire_TSN
Charles Perry: 843-626-0218, @TSN_CharlesPerr