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Thousands watch the Rehoboth Beach parade on a perfect fall day Molly Murray/ The News Journal

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Whether you join your Boston terriers dressed up as deviled eggs or sell a whole lot of pizza, Sea Witch is that rare festival that’s as fun for locals as it's for visitors.

When the 28th annual celebration gets rolling Friday, Nick Caggiano Jr., will be bracing for the crowds at Nicola Pizza and Chris Beagle will be putting the finishing touches on costumes for Abbey and Piper.

These two longtime fans diverge when it comes to their agenda for Sea Witch, but they pretty much agree on what makes it great. It’s a community making itself felt, and sharing that with tens of thousands of visitors.

“It’s good, you know, it makes everybody happy,” Caggiano said. ”It’s just a wonderful weekend for the kids, the adults are even happy.”

Added Beagle: “It’s a reflection of how involved the community is and how much we all love this place.”

Building community, a dog at a time

Explaining why he and his husband, Eric Engelhart, enjoy the dog parade, Beagle first talks about loving the Rehoboth community and spending time with their beloved Boston terriers.

But he acknowledges his friends and family members might add another reason to the list.

“As far as Sea Witch goes, I’m competitive,” he said.

One does not garb their dogs in creative and thematic outfits only as a vehicle for artistic expression. There are judges. Winners. Losers, if one is so inclined to see it that way.

And, for Beagle, there are certain self-imposed rules.

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No store-bought costumes — that’s just too easy. That’s not to say he spends a fortune; the dollar store is their go-to outfit shop.

Also, he strikes a balance between matching with his dogs in the parade and stealing their thunder. This is about the dogs, after all, not vicariously parading through the dogs.

“We try to support them without dominating, but obviously we want to look like we have a theme and have put some effort into it,” Beagle said.

For example, one year they adopted a nautical theme in which they wore sailor caps to complement Abbey. Another year, Beagle and Engelhart dressed up as deviled eggs, and Beagle held a little sign explaining the pun (on their breed of dog and a certain way of preparing said eggs) that he sort of expected people would just figure out on their own.

There are modest expectations, too, if only from precedent; Abbey is a five-time winner of the contest. Their newest Boston terrier, one-year-old Piper, will be in her second Sea Witch parade this year.

And, for the record, the dogs love it — crowds and all. Abbey loves to strut but Piper wants to make friends with the spectators.

“We’re really proud of the fact that our dogs are really well behaved,” Beagle said. “Every other dog can be barking but (Abbey and Piper) walk down the boardwalk proud as punch.”

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OK, Beagle concedes that not every local likes a festival in which the visitors outnumber the locals more than 10-to-1, but he really can’t begrudge the outsiders their ocean time.

“The vast majority of us fell in love with a beach town coming here from somewhere else,” he said. “I feel strongly sharing it with people who want to experience it.”

Registration for the dog parade begins at 2 p.m. Sunday with registration ($5 per dog) at Lake Avenue next to the Henlopen Hotel. The 1.5-mile parade starts at the hotel at 3 p.m. and continues down the boardwalk to Laurel Street, where walkers exit and return to Rehoboth Avenue on First Street. Winners are announced at the bandstand at 4:30 p.m.

Like July in October

For Caggiano, Sea Witch pulls in business comparable to the dog days of summer.

In other words, he plans on selling roughly twice as much food this weekend as he did during a typical offseason weekend.

“You have about 16 or 18 busy weekends a year,” he said. “This is one of ‘em.”

Caggiano said his business is fortunate to be have summer workers willing to come back in just for Sea Witch. He was already preparing on Monday, doubling his supply order to be ready to mix more dough, make more sauce and prepare more toppings.

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They also open at 10 a.m. on the Saturday of Sea Witch, an hour earlier than any other day of the year. Business picks up fast, but then the last float passes by, and tens of thousands of stomachs rumble. Eyes quickly fixate on the Nicola Pizza takeout window at 71 Rehoboth Ave.

“That’s when it gets crazy,” he says.

He said the crowds just keep getting bigger as the years go on, including on Sundays, due to the ever more-popular dog parade. Though it means more work, Caggiano said he looks forward to it all.

Saturday’s main event, the parade, starts at 11 a.m. Saturday.  

The full lineup

•Tyke Bike Race on the Boardwalk. Oct. 27 from 3-4 p.m., registration starts at 2:30 p.m. Children aged 8 and younger can show off their trike and bike skills on the boardwalk. Don’t forget helmets. Donation based.

•Choo Choo Express Train Rides, Oct. 27 from 4-6 p.m., Grove Park, 501 Rehoboth Ave. For children ages 2 to 7. Donation based.

•Old Fashioned Beach Games, Oct. 28 beginning at 2 p.m. Games include: Peanut on the nose race, knee knob wobble, slippery swords and hula twist off. Participants receive ribbon. For all ages.

•2nd annual Downtown Hoedown Fundraiser, Oct. 26, from 5-8 p.m., Fire Station 86, 219 Rehoboth Ave. Fundraiser benefits Rehoboth Beach Fire Company. Tickets are $35.

•Haunted Bonfire and Graveyard, Oct. 27, 7-9 p.m., Dagsworthy Street and the Beach, Dewey Beach. Includes DJ, dancing, ghost stories, snacks and refreshments. May be canceled in inclement weather.

•Costume Parade, Oct. 28, 11 a.m. Join the Woodland String Band mummers, thousands of costumed participants, local bands, decorated cars and the Nur Shriners for the 28th Annual Sea Witch Costume Parade.  This year's parade will begin and end at Fourth Street. Rehoboth Avenue will closed at 10 a.m. and reopen after the parade at around 3 p.m. 

•Best Costumed Dog Parade, Oct. 29, 3 p.m., on the boardwalk from Henlopen Hotel to Laurel Street, where walkers exit and return to Rehoboth Avenue via First Street. Registration begins at 2 p.m. and the fee is $5 per dog. Winners announced at the bandstand at 4:30 p.m. And here’s a rule that must have an interesting story behind it: No livestock, wild animals or reptiles are permitted.

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